Monday, 8 October 2007

Great one-liner

"Belts and shoelaces please." - A Scottish spectator to downcast All Black fans as they streamed for the Millennium Stadium exits.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Bird watching

And while I'm here and have got the rugby thing off my chest for another four years, I'm posting another little video clip taken yesterday while I was off rat catching in the forest again. I came across this Kereru feeding in some bushes as I walked along. It's not so common that you can get so close to one, although admittedly they're not the quickest and smartest of creatures.
video

You're oot.....again

Well, I guess it was inevitable. I forgot my own Golden Rule: the team that I support never wins. And just in case Bedrich is suffering from a fever and is tempted to post something here, I'm getting in first. I well remember his texted message while travelling back to Prague from Brno in 1999 when the All Blacks were turfed out of the World Cup by the French: a very sympathetic "You're oot!"

And so it happened again. Absolutely fucking amazing. We had 72% of the possession and we still managed to mangle it. The ref had a howler of a match by yellow carding Luke McAlister for a dive taken by a French player and not calling the forward pass that led to the last French try, but a great team should overcome bad reffing decisions. The ABs actually played well, but the coach's rotational policy counted against them in the end as the combinations weren't tried and true enough, and Daniel Carter should not have been playing ahead of Nick Evans because of the injury that eventually forced him from the field. But one must give credit where it's due and the French defensive effort was superb, the break by Michalak a classic and the discipline tremendous not to concede a penalty in the last quarter.

What we need now is to play some really shite ruby for the next four years so that we don't have the burden of being labelled the best team in the world. That shouldn't be a problem actually because this current team will be cleaned out now as a big number of them head toward the money in England and France, so we'll be in a rebuilding stage for a while. I just hope either France or Argentina win the cup coz I couldn't stand the gloating that would come from an English or a Saffer victory.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Cute doggies

Feeling very unimaginative sitting here listening to Bruce Springsteen's latest, Magic. Very bloody good it is, too. The novelty value of posting little video clips hasn't worn off yet, so I just took this one of Lidunka and Petr, plus you get the added bonus of seeing a piece of the back yard and an incredibly well-constructed deck. Nice birdsong too, if you have sound.
video

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Liberec Town Hall, live!

Les gazouillis des bébés de Bedrich en fond sonore et l'humour, en toutes circonstances, de notre ami Charlie!

video

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Rotten Live!

Just noticed that Blogger allows one to post video clips these days. So how about this little show from our resident actor filmed at Formanka ;) Shite quality I admit (the video, not Rotten), but it's all I've got. The baldy chap I believe is Franta (no, sorry, that should be Ferda). Click first on the black screen and then on the play button.

video

A day to remember – take two

The final assignment of my tertiary students days is approaching and although I’ve done hardly any work for it, the anxiety of having to think about it has put me off posting anything original lately. I’ve also been firing Czenglish emails off to the dozens of real estate agents in Prague in a bid to resolve the ongoing tenancy issues which the missus seems strangely inert to. I may have hit upon an audacious and cunning plan in that department, however, which would involve sending the missus off to Prague immediately to clean the place up and hock it off at top dollar to the first person to register the remotest interest. This kill-several-birds-with-one-stone kind of territory: the missus would escape the job she hates, I would be relieved of the resulting ear-bashing and left to my own dastardly devices for a while, I wouldn’t have to worry about finding tenants from 20,000km away, we’d get a quick cash injection into the mortgage account here, the brother-in-law would stop nagging us for a loan to buy his own house, and I wouldn’t have to face the prospect of dealing with all that shit myself next year. That in turn would give me the chance to prolong my Asia Minor adventures next year (and maybe make a detour up the Kharakom Highway) and perhaps draw out my travels around that nuclear-weapon-and-homosexual-free country of Iran (have just purchased Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana as more background reading). By the way, that was an interesting answer President Ahmadinejad gave to an Iranian-American journalist at a post-UN press conference yesterday when challenged about his statement that there are no gay people in Iran. The journalist asked him how this could be because he knew some. “Oh, really, you should give me their addresses so that we can send some people around to learn more about them”.

But the real reason for my post today is to finish off that story I began a while back about catching the midnight express from Turkey. Okay, it was more like the CSA flight via Bucharest at 5.55am, but it felt like an escape. Getting out of Mecidikoy, I had to wait for a minibus at 4am, which was so late I was keking myself that I’d blown my last American dolleros on a flight that I wouldn’t catch and have no job to go back to. It was a miserable deathly-ashen wet day as well, so one’s spirits were sandpapering the pavement, especially as I was still recovering from my gastroenteritis and was hence weighing in at around 60kg. I had about 35kg of luggage with me, so I must have cut a rather sorry and forlorn sight trying to drag all my shit across the concourse when I had hardly any energy to lift one foot after the other. I was a bit nervous handing over my residency permit along with my passport, but it managed to pass muster and I was perking up by the time I stepped out onto the tarmac.

The CSA flight was an old Antonov-54 and a bit shakey as the G-forces pushed us out of Istanbul and rattled every nut and bolt on the way. But as the plane thundered through the cloud cover, the woes of the past few weeks began to drop away. The sun was blasting through the porthole, nicely lighting the religious epiphany I was about to undergo. It was still only 6am, but my attention was drawn to a long-haired blonde nubile with flawless skin and legs up to her throat (skin complexion is the one that does it for me, folks). Better still, this breathless vision of pertness stretched out before me a silver platter bearing an elixir of life shining with condensation – a can of Budejovicky Budvar and nothing else – and inquired in a sexy husky voice with an accent that I can now detect at a thousand paces: “Would you like a refreshment, sir?” This was the defining moment of my life. If this was my flight to heaven, I was staying aboard.

A brief stopover on the weed-strewn tarmac at Bucharest airport did nothing to interrupt the reverie, and touch-down at Ruzyne delivered me to one of those magnificent hot Central European summer days. And there was Hlidek waiting to greet me a big slap on the back. “My dear Andy! You did not expect me, no? Let’s go for beer!”

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Confessions of a callow Kiwi

Doesn't have quite the same ring as a The Rotten Log, but fuck it, it's after midnight and there's a rugby match I must watch. I told Rotten I could outdo him for vacuity in youthful diary entries, so steel yourself and cast your eyes over this sorrowful lot, if you dare. These are the first entries into my travel log just prior to my original departure from Aotearoa many years ago:

Thursday, 28 November 1991
The beginning of a fresh chapter in my life. Who knows what fate has in store for me. Sixteen-and-a-half months in Alexandra, Central Otago, has left me feeling deeply ambivalent about a possible future re-entry into the world of journalism, and it has certainly done nothing to endear me to small towns. Of course, I never really gave it my best shot since I didn't want to be there in the first place [well, some things never change]. But at least it's given me some work experience and earned me enough money to finally fulfill my appetite for travel, and for that I am grateful.

With only three weeks to go before I depart for Germany I should be starting to feel the effects of adrenal glands working overtime. However, have left the dispiriting atmophere of Alexandra, the first taste of freedom has already greeted me with more cause for anxiety - the escalating problem of obtaining this damned Grandparent Entry Certificate for the UK. Time is rapidly running out in which to have my application processed, so I must somehow engineer a letter originating from a UK job agency within the next week if I'm to avoid the alternative of a simple two-year work permit. I only hope Nikki's English friend comes through for me. Will attempt to fax some urgent messages to England tomorrow as a last resort.

Friday, 29 November 1991
Another uninspiring day considering just how much I had been looking forward to leaving Alexandra. Managed to fax a miserable one letter to a secretarial job agency in London [!] although I think I'm beginning to clutch at straws. If I don't receive any replies by Monday, I'll have to ring the British Consulate-General in Auckland, explain my predicament and practically beg them to give me this confounded certificate. Hopefully, tomorrow will be less enervating - shall compile a list of suitable job agencies from the London telephone and yellow pages directory, maybe do some Christmas shopping, and then organise what and how many tapes to take with me [music cassettes for those of you who didn't come of age until the 1990s]. Still haven't made any serious attempt to begin reading yet and this is bound to cause my consternation at a later date.

Took in a visually sumptuous film with Lisa and Peter tonight entitled 'The Comfort of Strangers'. A very interesting film, but as usual my superficial knowledge of film, art and literature meant I was not really able to comprehend much until it was pointed out to me by a friend at the pub later on. My lack of perspicacity is becoming somewhat troublesome in light of my immenent arrival in a German university town [Tubingen] and flat where the general level of understanding over these things is sure to be several light years head of my own. Even my understanding of the New Zealand political scene, especially health issues, is shamefully inadequate, despite the fact I've been a journalist for the past two years. My hitch-hiking ride from Dr Wade of the blood transfusion unit revealed just how insufficient my general knowledge is. [This Dr Wade refers to a ride I got out of Alexandra from a medical practitioner who lectured me on AIDS and youth sex culture, and how human sexual relations would be changed for ever after by the epidemic...].

[Och; the naivety and folly of youth.]

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Scots still waiting to catch World Cup fever

Another lazy post from me. Here's something of interest from RugbyHeavenNZ (sorry about the breach of copyright...):

A huge set of red goalposts adorns a traffic island outside Edinburgh Airport. But the local Scots are probably still wondering why they are H-shaped and why they're not being guarded by a tall, reed-thin lad with rubber gloves on his hands.

Welcome to bonnie Scotland, host of the Clayton's World Cup – the World Cup you're having when the main action is elsewhere.

Mention "sport" in the Scottish capital yesterday and most folk's thoughts turned to late, great rally driver Colin McRae, who perished with his five-year-old son in a helicopter accident at the weekend.

McRae, for whom the term "affable Scot" was invented, judging by the outpouring of grief and tributes from throughout the motor sport world, was one of Scotland's few world sporting champions. Thus his tragic death at 38 dominates the front pages and broadcasting bulletins.
Edinburgh is a city accustomed to tourists. Most people know the Rugby Thingamajig is on – or at least they know someone who read about it in the small print in the Edinburgh Evening News.

But the Tartan Army aren't exactly bracing themselves for an All Blacks invasion. Black-and-white-clad visitors with painted faces barely raise a ripple of interest in a town where men wear ginger wigs and dresses to Murrayfield.

Talk "footy" to a Scot, and they'll automatically assume you're referring to their local Edinburgh teams, Heart of Midlothian (Hearts) or Hibernian (Hibs). Hearts fans are still hailing their team's 4-2 win over Glasgow Rangers - its biggest victory in 70-plus years over the blue half of Scotland's Old Firm.

Ask someone if they watched the big match in France, they'll go "aye – what a braw goal by James McFadden".

The Scottish football team's 1-0 win over former World Cup and European champion France is still being dissected while Scotland's 56-10 Rugby World Cup romp over Portugal was being forgotten as soon as it had ended.

Murrayfield – capacity 67,000 – should be close to full for the All Blacks match, due in no small measure to the number of New Zealand rugby fans making their quadrennial World Cup pilgrimage, and the sizeable expatriate Kiwi community resident in Britain.

Rugby insiders here will be sweating over crowd sizes. Murrayfield had plenty of empty seats when the 1999 World Cup was pepper-potted around the British Isles. Respected rugby writer David Ferguson, confidently predicted in his blog on The Scotsman's website that things would be different this time. He believed the visit of Romania would attract 30,000 and the All Blacks would play before a capacity crowd.

Now we have no intention of perpetuating the cruel and unfair stereotype of Scots being reluctant to dip into their own sporrans lest they disturb any winged insects dwelling there.

But, if you were a Scots supporter, knowing your team had never beaten the All Blacks, would you be so keen to cough up between £38 ($NZ107) and £164 ($NZ463) for a ticket to Monday's match?

That's a lot of loot – especially if Scotland fields a B team to save key players for the must-win match against Italy which will determine the second quarter-final qualifier.

Far better to be at the Scotland-Romania match this morning for two glaring reasons: One: Scotland should win, and Two: seats range from £13 ($NZ36) to £43 ($NZ121).

The fact Scotland is hosting two World Cup matches at all is an anachronism based on the Scottish Rugby Union's support six years ago for France as host of the 2007 tournament.

Cardiff was also allocated three pool matches and a quarter-final, which some might say "fair dos" because the Welsh are rugby-daft and the central city Millennium Stadium is one of rugby's great venues.

However, there is an important principal at stake here. Co-hosting should never be allowed to happen again. Keep the World Cup contained in one country. It makes for a much more successful tournament.

World Cup fever is approaching epidemic status in France. It is merely a mild, isolated contagion here.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

More amateur rugby punditry

Have been getting a bit lazy of late by not finishing posts after an introductory paragraph or posting material from other sources. I had been meaning to write more about ‘day to remember’ or ‘rugger bugger’, but by the time I got back to them those posts had been superseded by newer material, which meant there would be little chance of readers going back over them. No distractions today however.

I’m sure you’ve been making regular use of the World Cup links on the right-hand side of the page, but I’ll give you a recap of the week’s sporting events in any case. The All Blacks predictably notched up a cricket score against the Portugeezers on Saturday night by crossing the tryline 16 times to chalk up the highest number of points at this tournament – 108-13; we did let ourselves down a bit though by conceding a try, but that was almost to be expected from letting our guard down against amateurs. We were actually on a bit of a hiding to none ourselves because we were damned if we scored 150 points and we were damned if we didn’t, i.e. “big scores make a farce of the World Cup” versus “the All Blacks can’t attain their own giddy heights”. It was mostly our B-side, however, and we had a prop and a no.8 filling in as locks by the end of the match. Los Lobos got their revenge afterwards with a 2-1 win in an impromptu game of football. Anyway, that game is out of the way now, and hopefully the Scots can put up some stiffer competition this coming weekend. I recommend you head on down to Zlata Hvezda to catch the action.

Rotten and tvc (and BA if he’s monitoring) will be happy to know that the American Eagles put up a creditable display against the English last week, going down by only 20 points. England then went on to be exquisitely humiliated at the weekend by the rampaging Boks. This was only to be expected, however, since the English had fielded an old has-been former league captain as their kicker and a 36-year-old centre whose career should have ended when Jonah Lomu ran over him in 1995. For some unfathomable reason pundits seem to think that the Boks now pose a real obstacle to the All Blacks lifting the Cup this time around. They seem to forget that world champions England are now in the second or even third division of world rugby, and that after they were thrashed earlier in the season by South Africa, New Zealand still went on to win the Tri-Nations by beating the Boks twice in a row. It’s actually the Aussies who remain our greatest nemesis, even without Stephen Larkham, and they should stop the Boks in the semi-finals before facing the All Blacks in the final. All clear?

Monday, 17 September 2007

It was really unpleasant

Couldn't resist posting this article from Lidové noviny:

Bylo to hodně nepříjemné
15. září 2007
PRAHA Vedle ragbistů předvádějí tanec haka i novozélandští softbalisté, mnohonásobní světoví šampioni. Před sedmi lety se na mistrovství světa potkala s jejich představením i česká reprezentace. „Radili nám, ať se jim nedíváme do očí,“ říká kapitán národního týmu Jan Přibyl (30).
* LN Neměli jste chuť utéct, když Novozélanďané tančili haka?
Jsou nepříjemní a hrozní. Když Maor vyplázne jazyk a vykulí bělmo, tak je pořádně drsnej. Ze začátku je to hezké, člověka to baví, pak převažuje divný pocit a po třicáté už to nudí. Na mistrovství světa to dělají při nástupu, ale při přátelském zápase stáli metr od nás - a to bylo hodně nepříjemné.
* LN Co jste dělali?
Je to jejich tradice, člověk jim na to nechce sahat. Hlavně jsme si říkali, abychom se nesmáli. Ale před třemi lety v zahajovacím zápase mistrovství světa proti nim předvedla Samoa „antihaka“. Novozélanďani byli dost překvapení.
* LN Nemá po takovém zážitku hráč potíže s koncentrací na utkání?
Ani ne. Na to je pak dost času. Jiná věc je, že ze zápasu proti Novému Zélandu má člověk respekt tak jako tak. Ale týmy se tím nenechají zastrašit. Hráči se naučí být vůči tomu imunní.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Rugger bugger

Looking at PAM’s latest instalment there and Bedrich’s follow-up, I realise that unless I act quickly I’m going to lose the sporting agenda on this blog. I’ve been terribly remiss in not reporting back on the World Cup sporting event that is taking place NOW and in which Scotland have already qualified for the fifth time in a row. Of course, they’ll get metaphorically crucified in their upcoming match against the All Blacks, since they’ve never beaten them in their entire rugby-playing history, but they do have the chance from time to time to make it through to the quarter-finals or even semi-finals – something that’ll never happen at a football world cup…A Scotsman is even the leading points-scorer for all Rugby World Cups (Gavin Hastings).

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Scottish thistle pricked the French cocks tonight...


So I asked to the Sarkozy's Kommandantur to be fired from France to Glasgow. I have found an evidence to be exempted from my French civil rights.

Stoji za to...

I thought this little joke was quite good. Courtesy of Agnes in London:

Přijde chlap do baru, kde obsluhuje barman - robot. Natočí mu perfektní pivo a zeptá se ho, jaké má IQ. Chlápek odpoví, že někde kolem 150. Barman se s ním plynně začne bavit o kvantové fyzice, globálním oteplování, makroekonomice a tak podobně.

Chlap je z toho celý vedle, tak si říká, že ho vyzkouší. Jde domů, převlékne se a vrátí se do baru. Barman mu opět natočí perfektní pivo a ptá se na IQ. Chlápek řekne, že má kolem stovky. Robot s ním začne kecat o ženských, o fotbale, o autech...

Chlapovi se to hrozně líbí, tak jde zase domů, převlékne se a vrátí se do baru. Obdrží opět perfektní pivo a obvyklý dotaz. Tentokrát řekne robotovi, že má IQ 50. Na to se barman nakloní až k němu a pomalu, ale skutečně pomalu říká: "Poslyš, příteli, ale ten Paroubek je fakt dobrej, že jo?"

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Latest fantasy

Note the little housewifery clean-up job I did on your last post there, tvc? Good to see you. Have been out of action the last few days trying to bust a cap into the Churchillian nigrescent canine that had its teeth sunk into my jugular. It's loosened it's grip enough to get back into posting mode. I was going to send something in from the cubicle this afternoon, but I had been volunteered to deliver a presentation on an outcome evaluation framework and its accompanying intervention logic, so I felt compelled to find out what the fuck it's supposed to be about. My delivery was about as dry as the subject matter.

I perked up slightly when I received a missive from the missus explaining that she was on the verge of resigning her job. That was a cue for me to suggest that we do it in tandem and fuck off immediately to another country. Her exasperation wasn't as acute as I'd hoped however. Besides, the final assignment on agricultural sustainability is due in just a few weeks, so I may as well get it over and done with. I handed in my 'performance agreement' the other day, whose review coincidentally falls due on March 13, which is likely to be my last day. I know you guys think I'm barking mad for wanting to return to CZ, but believe me, you'd understand if you lived here. It's not that I'm completely enamoured with Cechy - I got over the romantic illusions a long time ago - it's just that it's not NZ, and given that I don't speak any other languages, the missus is Czech, I know people there and it's wonderfully centrally located, then it makes absolute perfect sense to be there. I could travel as much I wanted, within financial reason, without combusting kerosene in the troposphere, and I reckon I could live as close to 'off-grid' as I possibly could without forgoing all luxuries.

This is my latest little fantasy: ditch the flat in Zlicin and use the proceeds to purchase some 18th century forester's hut in Moravia and unleash my myriad DIY skills upon it. Preferably it would be on fertile soil where I could cultivate a vegetable patch, and have a few plum trees and/or grape vines for some mandatory homemade slivovice/vino. There would be a wonderful bucolic pub close by and a burcak festival held in the locality each year. I reckon if you could purchase the deed to such a house outright, then you'd need bugger all cash to survive thereafter. I could even do a Peter Mayle on the place, as nauseous as his stuff is, but someone's gonna do it sooner rather than later...Michael Palin's latest TV series apparently sings the praises of Moravia...As I say, just another fantasy.

Hey Rotten, I enjoyed your Rotten Log, but I reckon I can up you in the embarrassing vacuity stakes for youthful diary entries. I kept something myself from my first days in Czechoslovakia and it's exquisitely cringe-worthy. Will see what I can dredge up...

Monday, 10 September 2007

Odessa Nights

Greetings, been I while since I checked this space, glad to see Kivak still amuses us with his Oriental adventures of 15 years ago and pictures of him with hair. Liked the Rotten Log too, keep it coming. I know this blog is primarily devoted to Liberec and related nostalgia (plus Kivak's fits of work rage & wacky political opinions), however in this short contribution I'd like to focus on something in the present and a lot more fun. Mainly 2 weeks of studying Russian in Odessa. Flew out there right after a two week holiday in Italy, hit the 1.1 million Black Sea port in 35 degree heat and kept running for two weeks. Seamy, gritty, dirty, heaving, seedy, disfunctional, hilarious, incredibly fun: That is how I would describe Odessa. Was lucky to stay in a private house with a nice garden and hang out with mostly nice people from all over Europe (a surprising number older than me).

Russian classes in the morning, homework on the beach in the afternoon accompanied by beers or martinis a few of us would mix in plastic bottles on the beach and pass around. Sounds a little alky, but there really was no other way there. The Russian women (Odessa is a largely Russian-speaking city and region ) entertained endlessly with their taste for skimpy, blingy fashions. Here's a picture from the beach:
If you look really closely at the green bikini, you'll see the words say "Fruity & Juicy". Indeed.

Found some good restaurants too. For some funny English check out Steakhouse, http://www.steak.od.ua/ There are also pictures (more) of a tradition they have there of bikini-clad girls "washing" the plastic cow standing outside the restaurant on the city's main drag, Deribasovskaya ul. Sit on the verandah and you won't miss the show. Fridays we'd go to any number of pretentious clubs down by the beaches and just people watch and drink till dawn. Then hit the beach for a swim with the sun rising.

Kivak, you're jealous already, right? Personally it took me back a little to the Liberec years, I felt about 25 again.

Anyway, that's over (though I might go again next year) and now it's back to the fall grind.

I leave you with a sunrise over the Black Sea, taken after too many vodka tonics at the Itaka beach disco:

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The Rotten Log I

Well done with the Turkish stuff, Kivak. One bad turn deserves another…

As BA may recall, I was quite the little diarist during my time in Liberec. I took great joy in filling page after page of exercise books with my Deep Thoughts and Incise Observations. I was sure that one day I would turn to these journals and relish the wit and brio with which I had recorded the events of those momentous days.

Recently I went back and read them.

Oh. My. God.

After waiting the several hours it took for my armpits to stop smoking from embarrassment, I cowboyed up and undertook the distasteful work of picking through these callow, adolescent and generally fucked-up observations in order to cull at least a few scraps that might be of passing interest to my fellow Liberec veterans.

With your indulgence, I would like to post some excerpts. On or around the first of every month I intend to put up a few bits of vintage “Liberazzia” recorded in that month during those years. But this will not be an embarrassing “tell all”. I was far too chickenshit to record any of the really damaging stuff so no one needs to worry. Those seeking anything more than mild titillation will be disappointed.

When fellow Liberazzi are written about, I use their blogger nicknames to identify them. Other expats will go by the first letter of their first names. Czechs are identified by first name and maybe a second initial. I believe that the preponderance of Honzas, Martinas, Jiris, etc. in the general population will be protection enough for the privacy of the unwitting natives who were drawn into the events of this degenerate chronicle…

For the maiden month of September the notebooks (the “Rotten Logs”) are rather thin on entries. They paint September as a deadish time when the old hands were drifting back into town and the new folks were attempting to adjust to The Life. The only (just barely) excerpt-worthy entries I could find amid the pages ‘o crap were written in 1997, exactly ten years ago, my last September in Liberec. It’s fairly tame stuff, with the young Rotten apparently attempting to develop a completely original literary genre: Hangover Writing.

I would also like to thank Kivak for creating the motivation for me to go back through and copy elsewhere the few items that are of value in the Rotten Logs. It will allow me to finally burn them.

The Rotten Log for September:
18.9.97
“Yesterday was a fucking horror show. A fucking low point like I haven’t seen in a long time. I spent maybe forty-five minutes in the office, sitting in the Napmaster [the infamous sleep-inducing armchair that passed from generation to generation of Pedagogy Faculty teachers], staring at the wall, completely fucking out of it. A finally rousted me out so he could fuck around with my email account. He tried a bunch of shit with it but couldn’t find what he wanted, so I got on and tried to write email. What a fucking mess. A lot of three word sentences…all I can do is transmit indecipherable horseshit over the internet...Jet-lag, one no-sleep night, booze and a hangover have caught me by the balls…
“After I fouled the internet I wandered around town like some kind of handicap…I drank two espressos at the Hotel Praha in a feeble attempt to smooth out my brain…I ran into Dirt and then Bedrich and they didn’t have a hard time talking me into going for a few jars down at the Drug Garden. I was supposed to have a few with Jiri N. but after I got home and had dinner I just fucking crashed out. It was about seven o’clock…”

19.9.97
“Brutal fucker this morning. Grumpy and down for no reason. Quiet time alone with too many thoughts is not good. I didn’t feel back up to the battle until I listened to ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’ [Classic Lynyrd Skynyrd song] on the way to work. Last night Bedrich, Jiri N. and I busted down a few at the Menza pub. It’s hard to have a conversation about anything without bitching about something. T.U.L. is at the top of the list. Bedrich thinks one more year after this one is a possibility, but only under the most bastard circumstances. He’s super pessimistic about getting private [non-teaching] work. Jiri N. seems to think it wouldn’t be that big a deal, as long as it’s in Prague…
“The FNGs [Fucking New Guys] are just making me antsier to beat feet out of this motherfucker…B from across the hall informed me today that a ‘cleaning party’ is afoot for ‘one of these Saturdays while we’re all around anyway’. Hey pal, you got a problem with the condition of the third floor common room, clean the fucker…fucking gooney bird wants to wash the windows and all that shit. I don’t do windows. This isn’t helping my ‘Decrease the Mean-Ons and Malice’ program…”

23.9.97
“BA’s due back late tonight…Bedrich had the good (?) idea to waylay him at the bus station and force him into an immediate elbow-bending session…”

25.9.97
“Yesterday I rolled in at noon and got busted down a day’s wage for being so late. Fuckin fuck all that shit. Made me uptight. Deserved? Sure. But a symptom of the disease. I wouldn’t roll in here three hours late if I felt there was enough of importance to do to get me in at 9 bright ‘n early…”

ROTTEN OUT.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

One of those days to remember

Sorry, Kivak, I know you're not seeing a lot of action at the moment, but I've been pouring my literary energy into another wee project of late. I'll try to brighten up your sad little days with some more blog therapy, but methinks it might come in fits and starts for the next short while before the ABs get into their stride or one of us is unshackled and let out of the country. In the meantime you'll have to make do with still more anecdotes from travels gone by.

...The day eventually came when the Turkish residency permit was ever so gratefully received and the tatty old backpack was finally stuffed of all the totally useless crap I used to cart around the world in those days. William and Fyodor has to be abandoned unfortunately, although I found replacements for them a few years down the track. I left a large bill at the school canteen, but I skipped the country without my last pay packet, so that should just about have covered it. I surely wasn't flavour of the month once my escape had been uncovered, but I haven't stepped back inside the country at any stage in the intervening 15 years. I'm sure the guards at the Iranian border crossing in Sero won't be overly concerned looking for repayment for a few kebabs from 1992 in any case.

To be continued...

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Last piece of Turkish Delight

Right, last anecdote about Istanbul for posterity's sake. We're finally in Medicikoy (pronounced Major-dee-ya-coy, or at least that's how I remember it's pronounced) after being shunted off out of Kadikoy and away from the nest that I'd shat in. I was driven over by the school's manager rather than taking one of the mobile saunas called buses, who recounted stories from his officer days in the army to do with lecturing his conscripts on the evils of cottaging.

After being shown around the school premises in a nondescript high-rise tower on a very bleak estate I was dropped off at my new accomodation in an apartment about 15 minutes drive away. I'm buggered if I remember what it looks like now, apart from the kitchen and the toilet, which I got to know particularly well over the next few weeks. My only surviving photo from this period is the one you see here, taken from my classroom window the very day before I scarpered off to Czechoslovakia. I remember the kitchen from my apartment well because when I entered the room at night and switched on the light the place would be literally swimming before my eyes with cockroaches. It was the first time I'd ever even seen these insects and they reminded me distinctly of that great George Peppard movie Damnation Alley.

I think I had one flatemate, but as we worked different shifts and he had money, our paths didn't cross too frequently. Again, I don't remember too much of the actual teaching stint apart from getting on the wrong side the authorities as usual - this time for wearing cut-off cargo pants to work when all teachers were expected to wear suit and tie. The greatest redeeming feature of the school was its cafeteria and the tab it provided to teachers. That allowed me to rack up a few hundred thousand lire in food bills in my first month before my first pay packet arrived. In between time I was surviving on about 5,000TL per day, which basically bought me a couple ekmek, some jam and a bottle of water. And I think that money came from pawning the few books that I'd brought with me from England. The only two books that I permitted myself to keep were Crime and Punishment, and William Manchester's American Caesar.

These were not particularly happy days, and the anxiety levels rose still further once the ninety-day tourist visa period had expired. To get out of the country again I'd need a residency permit in order to avoid paying a thumping great fine for overstaying, but I encountered some Kafkaesque bureaucracy in my efforts to get the permit before I even understood what had made dear old Franz so famous. And because I'd purchased a flight ticket to Prague for 23 August 1992 with my second to last pay packet (which sucked up $150 from a total of $190), I ended up visiting the foreigners' police station every single day for my last two weeks in Istanbul hoping almost beyond hope that the permit would arrive in time. Miraculously, it turned up the very day before I was due to leave. I'd been keking myself.

And to compound matters still further, I'd contracted a powerful dose of gastroenteritis in my final month from some fruit that I'd failed to wash properly. Because I was still living on a couple dollars per day, I couldn't afford to visit a doctor or buy medicine, so I quite literally shat myself to a complete halt. Teaching was a nightmare, as I had to excuse myself from the class every 10 minutes to shit-blast the porcelain (fortunately the school had European toilets or else I would have had it all over my ankles). Fuck me, it was going in solid and coming out at the other end as a fine but highly pressurised mist. In my last week in Istanbul I was down to less than 60kg.

Eventually I did come right, and I put that down to the medicinal properties of Efes Pilsner. I was quaffing the stuff back by the dozen to hydrate during the height of summer and to anaesthetise myself from the pain of hanging my rectum out every 10 minutes. This had some embarrasingly consequences one evening when I was lounging about the apartment in my speedo briefs, when there was a ring at the door. I answered it without bothering to dress myself further and found the building's caretaker blabbering away something wholly unintelligble to me. The next I knew I was flat out on the deck with the coat hanger lying on top of me, the door wide open to the public, but not a soul to be seen. My speedos were still hitched up and the throbbing in the Kyber Pass was no worse since the latest violent expurgation, so I had to thankful that I hadn't been taken advantage of. God only knows what the caretaker made of it...

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Tying up Turkish loose ends

Better get this Istanbuli stuff cleared off the decks so that I can move on to another topic (God only knows what though). I’ll just polish off my TEFL training in Kadikoy before moving across to Mecidikoy for my first ever paid teaching gig.

So, the actual TEFL training was comprised of your standard four-week course led by a couple English trainers – one a very attractive and frighteningly commonsensical and serious 20-something women called ...erm...a name, and the other an outrageously mincing balding-but-pony-tailed old queen named Ian. The latter developed a crush on all the young men on the course and loved to regale us with stories of his former life teaching English in Bulgaria, but he presumably left his more amourous adventures till after dark with members of the local population unable to save enough to pay for a wedding with their preferred gender. He did bestow upon me, however, the priceless gift of knowing how to say 'thank you' in Bulgarian - something that helped me out of a tight situation with a corrupt Bulgarian border guard many years later. A quick Google search reveals that Ian is still plying his trade in Turkey at a university somewhere. I guess he wasn't as old as he looked in 1992.

There were maybe a dozen teacher trainees on my course altogether and all English apart from me and someone else - maybe an American. The rest of the potential candidates, I suppose, were rejected and got sent to Novy Jicin for their sins. The course itself is all a bit of a blur, as I was just looking for that TEFL Certificate and a couple months' work to finance the flight to Prague and thence to Randy St in Jablonec And Nisou (as my NZ hometown newspaper called it whenever they published my free-lance stories written from there). The Certificate never came in handy and was used to feed mice in Budova F many years ago. I believe I managed a 'C' for my efforts in any case; I was guilty of too much TTT I recall - Teacher Talking Time. I was just grateful I passed and was given the opportunity to recoup some of my course fee.

Apart from marking the most painful realisation that can occur to any young, vain and pompous git, i.e. that I was suffering from a slow burning case of androgenic alopecia, the course was only notable for one incident that has stuck on the scoured patch of my non-stick brain pan; that was when we were charged with critiquing our fellow trainees' teaching performance. I was in a group of four and the whole lot of us took turns at analysing our own conduct in front of guinea pig students and then opening ourselves up for comments from the other three. Well, I took my medicine without qualms since it was all the same to me. There was one twit though, called Chris, pictured in an earlier post outside the school, who was simply abominable in front of a class and would have made an absolutely appalling teacher. When it came to our turn to review his performance everyone remained embarrassingly silent. I therefore naturally saw it as my duty to speak up and save potentially hundreds if not thousands of future English language students. In short, I tore the guy apart until Ian decided that honesty wasn't the best policy and cut me short. Poor Chris was apopletic with rage, but as I've said in earlier posts, I wasn't the most politically, emotionally and culturally sensitive of souls in those days. Chris's later attempts to blacken my name, however, by spreading the story that I was racist toward Turks was even further below the belt though. Och well, you live and learn, eh?

In the end it didn't prevent me getting the job that the course guaranteed and that I so desperately needed to scrape some cash together. They did pack me off to Mecidikoy, however, which was about as far removed from Kadikoy as you could get in the world of English Fast.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Translate 'intellectual'

Interesting reading on Seznam’s Novinky today. It shows I’m desperately behind the times, but how fascinating to learn Jiri Paroubek has been porking his translator and is now set to splice the knot with her. She scrubs up very well I must say, and she obviously doesn’t mind having to heave her leg over Jiri’s acute curvature of the stomach. The 20-year difference beats my all-time record of 13 years, so I doff my cap to him. Slečna Kováčová justifies the provocation of Jiri’s marital infidelity by stating that she was ‘stimulated’ by his intellect. Hmpf, I’ve never heard it called that before. I used to do lots of intellectual stimulating myself in the good old days. Nice how she agrees with all Jiri’s political opinions, which would lead one to suggest that perhaps she not reciprocating the ‘intellectual’ stimulation in the strictest sense of the word. At least she’s her own woman on reintroducing the death penalty. Such a thoughtful lady. I would have thought it would be a lot safer for Czech politicians if they drafted in the likes of my former flatmate Libor to do all their translation work.

Friday, 24 August 2007

A whale of a tournament

Jonah the Whale won’t be there in a playing capacity, but it’s going to be just as good, and almost definitely better than 1995 when Jonah used the English team for cleaning his boot studs. This time it’s a blackout for the opposition ala 1987, although I hope to be sober enough to remember Richie McCaw lifting the Cup at the end of this tournament. Jonah was hoping to play in France, but despite receiving his long-hoped for kidney transplant and a return to first division rugby, his acute nephritic syndrome has done permanent damage, and at the age of 32 he no longer has the speed required for a winger in the modern game.

No matter. We’ve got a couple big Fijian boys on the outside, plus the evergreen Dougie Howlett, so we’re not missing anything on the outside. Mils Muliaina has the safest pairs of hands of any fullback in the business, as well as the best counter-attacking skills. There’s a guy from Otago called Nick Evans who would be a shoo-in for first-five-eighth in any other team in the world, but he has to play second-fiddle to the reigning world number one, Dan Carter. Centre is our only potential weakness, but Conrad Smith is back from injury, so probably no worries there. Byron Kelleher is the biggest halfback in world rugby and back for his third tournament, but he may end up playing understudy to the dynamic Jason Leonard. The ball skills of these lads when they’re on fire is a sight to behold.

Then there’s the forward pack with undisputedly the best scrum in the world. Carl ‘Man Mountain’ Hayman (1.93m, 120kg) toyed with his Australian counterpart Matt ‘Fat Pudding’ Dunning during their last encounter like an 800-lb gorilla playing with a plasticene Tonka truck. Openside flanker Richie McCaw wins turn-over ball like a man betting on the sun coming up tomorrow, and blindside breakaway Jerry Collins has private health sector orthopaedic surgeons lining up for overtime to deal with his tackle victims.

The All Blacks have a round-robin match against Scotland, but no doubt there’ll be a John O’Groats third XI match against Orkney Isle Amputees being televised the same day that will soak up the audience numbers in Caledonia. For the more enlightened, further information can be viewed here. Just 14 days to go till kick-off.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

And all the people (Alleluia!) Rejoiced

Ahhhh, yes, I can hear Handel’s Zadok The Priest ringing in my ears as I write this, clamorously celebrating this crowning moment in the blogosphere (hey, nice alliteration). One hundred posts. My oh my. How did we get there? And what extreme sensitivity you’ve all shown to permit me the honour of posting the hundredth when I know you all must have been scrambling over dead bodies to write something yourselves. My heart has been pumping custard pies in gratitude.

But back to life, or what passes for life at this end of the spectrum. We have a tentative date for the launch of next year’s expeditionary campaign to Asia and Central Europe. Monday, 17 March, is most probably when the school holidays begin with a bit of a roundabout journey to the final flight destination. After studying the various paths to be taken, the carriers and their extravagantly divergent prices, it looks like the Taiwanese are to be favoured with my custom. China Airlines it is then, via yet another deadly stopover at Sydney International Airport for five hours, Taipei overnight, and then on to Delhi where the carbon emissions end and the burning of the winter storage of lard begins. Where’s Charlie hiding out with his newly acquired wife these days by the way? Perhaps he could show me the sights of the Taiwanese capital for a few hours if he’s domiciled back there again.

I see the Ruskies have been taking Defence Minister Martin Bartak to task again for the “big mistake” of supinely and sycophantically bending over to expose an orifice for the placement of some “anti-Iranian” missile defences. Putin has even relaunched strategic bomber flights over the Pacific to within range of the US. Yep, nothing like some old fashioned great power rivalry to put the world to right. Such nostalgia. And now that the ice cap over the North Pole is thinning out nicely, it’s time to rush in and dig up all that fossilised carbon and help generate some more heat to uncover the deposits at the other Pole. And some people call themselves optimists and see a rosy future for humanity. I see a rosé future straight out of a bottle after reading those stories.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Pack yer prayer mat and head to church

What's this picture all about then? What brilliant repartie is it going to lead into this time and have us all accidentally uncorking our bladders with mirth, huh? Er, nowt actually. I just happen to have it in digital form and so I consign it to this electronic dustbin of history. For those of you unacquainted with Istanbul, this is the Blue Mosque located in Sultanamet where I bestrode the streets aimlessly prior to my move across the Bosphorus. There are billions of pictures of the Blue Mosque better than this one on the Internet, but I was still toying with my former employer's ancient Nikon with a rooted lens, so this is the best I could manage at the time (or as David Mitchell's Somni-739 might say, I nikoned it rather sonyed it while the shoeshine boy buffed up my nikes). Nothing more to say today really, but I'll forgive myself. Prefer to reimmerse myself in Cloud Atlas, so this week's brevity is Rotten's fault.

Friday, 17 August 2007

How to act very cool with pimples

Oooooo, number 98. This is getting very exciting. I'm struggling to scrape something from the bottom of the barrel to write about, but I might just be able to dip my snout over the line in a couple posts' time.

Back to Constantinople it is then. I've still got maybe half-a-dozen anecdotes to recount, and that's without delving into the darker side of life there. While we may not have been flavour of the century with our religiously conservative neighbours across the street or perhaps the folks living directly beneath, above and beside us, there were some residents of our apartment building who were willing to fraternise with us. I’ve already mentioned the tumescence-inducing likes of Alev and her younger sister Ebru on the lower floor. Their father was a restauranteur in the town of Çaycuma in Zonguldak province on the Black Sea coast, and so because Ebru was still at school she would travel home each weekend to be with her parents. I was invited there once for only the second time I escaped the city limits of Istanbul, but my memory of the occasion has dimmed over the years. All I can recall is some great köfte in Dad’s eatery, a visit to poor rellies in a nearby village where they were baking bread in an outdoor oven (see picture), tortuous conversations with the non-English speaking mother using my 10 words of Turkish (‘water’, ‘jam’, ‘bread’, ‘hot’, ‘cold’, ‘beautiful eyes’ and ‘fuck off’ don’t provide for a great variety of sentences in the total absence of verbs, pronouns and prepositions), and half-an-hour bent over the household squat toilet analysing the plumbing system and agonising over how to make one’s mephitic post-lunch extrusions vanish without the aid of running water (a common theme during my months in Turkey). It was all a bit of a disaster really because while Alev was just evincing some traditional Turkish hospitality, I had fanciful visions of canoodling with her on romantic evening walks in the countryside. Needless-to-say, I made a total prick of myself. Anyhow, it’s worth at this juncture posting a picture here of Alev to demonstrate that I wasn’t losing my head over a girl for nothing (wouldn’t be the last time though, would it…?).

Another resident who gravitated into my consciousness was a teenager who lived on the bottom floor with his mother (funny how I can’t remember any of the men’s names from this era). I think he must have been in his last year of school or was studying for university entrance examinations because he thought that paying me money to teach him English would somehow be of benefit to his studies. Incredible, I know, especially as I was also expected to teach him some French. I think I managed to wing it in much the same way that some people believe Bush is running the USA, and I guess my schoolboy Francais was still fresh enough at that stage to fool the most undiscerning of customers: “Ecoutez a repitez!” Amazing what you can get away with by doing one’s most outrageous John Cleese French impersonation: “I told zem we already ‘av one”.

This young lad had a few friends he was always hanging out with, and they adopted me for the couple months I was in Kadikoy as an older but mentally-handicapped brother. We would hang out on the streets or on the waterfront while I generally observed their interactions with other groups of likely lads. They were the most shameless poseurs (notice the French influence?) and would stop at nothing to represent themselves as greater lovers or street fighters. Which was all fine, except that my young friend suffered from a particular nasty case of acne. He wasn’t covered from shoulder to forehead in zits, but the oleaginous pustules that he did grow on his countenance were so ferociously volcanic and sebaceous in nature that I thought it safest to wear sunglasses in case they spontaneously erupted into one huge violent orgasm of lubricious white fluid. All highly amusing whenever I pulled out my camera, when he and his mates would immediately assume Hasselhoff positions. It’s very hard to play dead cool when there are big suppurating bubbles floating over your boat. Unfortunately, the lad in question is hidden under the towel in the picture below, but his mate beside him has got the Hoff down to a tee. Note, however, the reclining figure with the anti-zit splatter shades, the fine head of hair and the Speights Ale T-shirt.



Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Street life in Kadiköy

Back to safer and more readable territory, even though I was forced into some work-related written material already today, so I don’t feel quite the usual pent-up necessity of discharging my loaded gun onto this page.

Now that I’ve established my domicile in Kadikoy on Sokak Izzetin (not Sokak Yoğurtçu as mistakenly reported in an earlier post – that was the address of the school rather than my apartment), let’s set the scene of the neighbourhood. The street was a narrow and dusty cobbled affair patrolled constantly by gangs of youths acting as the morals police or playing football. Beşiktaş, I believe, was the team favoured by the locals, although these days it’s Fenerbahçe or Galatasaray that are the more fancied and prosperous teams. The picture here depicts my street with the Beşiktaş flag hung out to mark the territory. My apartment was on the second-to-top floor on the left-hand side right beside the flag.
My boulangerie was just three blocks away from where I would line up with all my neighbours in anticipation of two or three loaves of ekmek at 1,500 lire each. Bloody nice with a big dollop of strawberry reçel, too. (Ah, my expansive 20-word Turkish vocabulary is coming back to me already). And the corner diary was literally on the corner where I would nip in daily to order “alti biere, lutfen”, as opposed to the easier but ultimately less thirst-quenching “bir biere, lutfen”, which would have had me returning another five times, as well as “yarim” kilo of pistachio nuts or grapes (everything I got was in half-kilo quantities). The beer was a wee bit pricey for me at 5,000TL each, but I got 2,000TL back on each empty, so each two-and-a-half bottles quaffed was another one waiting in the wings. Diminishing returns indeed, but it all made perfect sense to keep drinking more as you lure yourself into an intoxicated haze while parked on a sunny balcony and accompanied to the tune of the imam yodelling the call to prayer.

The front windows received little sun, but had the advantage of being closer to the neighbours for anthropological study purposes. Unfortunately, the Turkish gaster arbiter from Kreuzberg had failed to import the more charming drapery habits of their German hosts, i.e. make your apartment a curtain-free zone, and so we were not permitted untrammelled observation rights into the neighbouring living rooms. The neighbours directly opposite us, however, nevertheless felt our hawk-like gaze burning into the backs of their necks and soles of their feet (to reveal the undersides of one’s feet is apparently a great social faux pas), and so they had no choice but to pin up a black shroud around their balcony to keep the foreigners’ evil eyes off their daughter. Here is a photo of the shroud going up with the aforementioned daughter lingering behind the lace curtains:

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

A meek act of love

This is going to be a very indolent week of blogging, with short posts only until I can build up the literary energy reserves enough to churn out something that requires more than the blink of an eye to read. For the time being the mention of Russia yesterday reminded me to refer Rotten to another classic read that is heartily recommended if he hasn't been there already. That's James Meek's 'The People's Act of Love' set in Russia during the aftermath of the First World War as the civil war rages between the Whites and the Reds.

It’s a great book featuring cannibals, Skopi castrates, lusty women and a battalion of Czech soldiers led by a psychotic drug-addled 24-year-old Colonel desperate to return to their newly formed country. But it’s more than just an entertainment. The title refers to the various permutations of love as expressed or acted out by the central characters in the book. To paraphrase Meek himself, they all agree that love exists and matters, but they disagree on what love may be. Samarin, the anarchist political prisoner turned cannibal, and Balashov the religious castrate believe that it may go beyond the love of man for woman, or mother for son, or friend for friend, beyond individual love; that there is a real love which is greater than individuals. This is God’s love in the case of Balashov; this is the People’s love in the case of Samarin; this is one’s country’s love. Anna, the main female character and Mutz, the thoughtful Czech subordinate officer, are more sceptical of this kind of idealism. Yet Samarin and Balashov’s yearning for God’s love or the People’s love is, until it is taken to extremes, attractive to Anna, who is given some steamy sex scenes throughout the book; Mutz knows that he lacks something, for her, without it.

The people’s act of love is also, literally, an act of cannibalism. But to Samarin’s mind, it is a small gesture of love, of care and cherishing, from one failed, dying generation of humans to the next, happier generation. According to Meek, the ability to see something wicked and cruel as an act of love is characteristic of the extreme idealist. You can read more about Meek’s ideas in this interview.

Drawing your attention to the book was my own meek act of love to this most popular of blogs ;)

Monday, 13 August 2007

From Russia, with rapacity and aggravation

Felt like a change of location today. I can always return to Turkey another time. But this is not about lugging around FSB-sanctioned plutionium isotopes for some soup flavouring in the Dorchester Hotel, as much as I could venture an opinion on such matters. It's just a swipe at the ludicrous scenario one has to play out to adopt children from Russia. Apparently the whole reason for putting in place Hague Convention agreements between countries wishing in engage in inter-country adoption was to combat a worldwide illicit commercial market in babies for childless couples. So now, instead of shelling out tens of thousands of dollars in hard cash to corrupt middlemen, you shell out a few bricks of hard currency to corrupt government officials and Aeroflot for three, yes three, visits to the orphanage of their choice. Yes, I refer here to the aforementioned goal of expanding the family numbers via a few Russian imports, but we were told last week during our first mandatory adoption seminar that you'd be looking at investing a cool $60K for such an exercise. Looks like it's goodbye Russia and hello Thailand. I'm not about to stump up an arm and leg to fund someone's dacha on the Crimean peninsula, or wherever the Ivans holiday these days.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

TEFL as a sustainably interesting career

Not. So let’s examine why the fek I ever got involved in a notoriously dead-end and dull occupation (Teaching English as a Foreign Language for the incredulous uninitiated). Easy: it was a means to an end, and I think one or two of you can relate to that. I mean, look at the evidence: is anyone from our TUL cohort still fronting up to classrooms of eager English-speaker wannabes? Of course not, and for good reason. The end, my friend, was simply to stay on the road in those days, get to know a bit of the world, and delay the return home to anonymity and inevitable middle-class consumerist ennui for as long as possible.

Even the TEFL guides in the early 1990s openly espoused English-teaching as a way of seeing the world rather than as a serious end in itself. They openly boasted of the countless opportunities in newly opened-up former Soviet bloc countries like Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia where you could walk into any teaching job if you happened to a native English speaker. What a Godsend for the armies of Slackerdom – do something that you’ve been doing all your life without any concerted effort, but in exotic locations, and get paid for it! Sure, get paid mince for it, but usually enough to provide a modicum of a drinking allowance.

Yep, no need for any qualifications whatsoever. Just chat away and let those impassioned hordes soak up your natural eloquence. And I could have done exactly that, only I’d fired off an application to the Ministerstvo školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy in February before heading off to Morocco for a couple weeks on only the second package holiday I’ve ever been on in my life. A job offer from Hlidek in Jablonec was waiting upon my return to London, but the snag was that it didn’t start until the beginning of the new school term in September. What to do? Well, the crumbs of my Calvinistic conscience got the better of me, so instead of gallivanting off on another excursion somewhere, I decided the decent thing to do would be to sign up for a TEFL course and make sure I could actually teach. I strongly suspected that a job requiring ‘conversation’ with students only might begin to pall after a while, and therefore it might be wisest to have another arrow loaded into my near-vacant quiver of employment prospects.

A scientific study of the cheapest TEFL courses around the globe according to the ‘language courses’ section of the Daily Mirror revealed two options: Cairo or Istanbul (discussed in an earlier post). Both cost the same, so I think the only reason I opted for Istanbul was because I’d just returned from North Africa, and Turkey could be accessed very inexpensively overland (or so I thought; this was also the era of costly flight tickets prior to the advent of no-frills cheap-as-chips airlines like SleazyJet).

And so it was that I applied to English Fast, which at the time touted itself as having Cambridge affiliation (I was quickly disabused of this notion by the other teachers once I arrived). The application process went swimmingly, which in hindsight should have set Groucho Marx-style alarm bells ringing (“I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member”). Part of that process required having to front up to a farcical ‘interview’ at a tiny and very dingey office on Tottenham Court Rd occupied by a funny little chap with the most extraordinarily intricate hair weave over his bald pate. I was so totally enthralled by it that I can’t remember what any of the questions were about at all. I later met up with the guy again in Istanbul and he kept entertained for hours by describing the ‘book’ that he’d written, and which he was then delivering to all known publishers, which detailed his deep understanding of why women are the way they are. Yes, a true philosopher. I never heard of him ever again.

And that, children, is how Great Uncle Kivak came to reside in the land of the sultans for a few months in 1992, via a few weeks bludging off his brother in Germany along the way.

And, belatedly, since we haven't had any colour here for a while, I include a lovely picture of my first teaching establishment. The girl was a Turkish student and the bloke is an English twit about whom you may hear more later...

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Some more Anatolian exploits

I should be writing up my six-monthly performance agreement at the moment, but writing yet another post seems to me far more useful, infinitely more satisfying and may potentially encourage a readership of more than one.

Since Rotten requested it, I’ll try to delve back into the memory banks and see if I can’t rewire the circuits to produce a couple sparks of cognitive recall about my torpid Turkish existence. Fifteen years is a helluva long time afterall. For a start, the title of this post is not altogether correct because I spent probably more time on the European side of Turkey than on the Asian. But, hey, Anatolia has a certain romantic ring to it, conjuring up fez hats, hennaed hands, numismatic jewellery draped over colourful chadors, and elaborate scimitars for flaying alive Crusader knights. Not that I ever saw even a hint of mystique on my two very brief excursions outside the big, bad city of 20m.

So, where did I get to last time around? Ah, that’s right, 10 days lolling around Sultanamet, accepting the offers of free shoe shines, and supping on glasses of Efes Pilsner when I thought I could afford it. Finally, when it was time to head over to the free accommodation provided by the prestigious school of English Fast (another school had beaten them to the title of Fast English), I was on the first ferry across the Straits. The school was just in the process of completing a new apartment block for its teachers and trainee teachers, but by the time I was shown around it was clear that the long-termers had snaffled all the best rooms facing outside, leaving only the clammy, airless and windowless interior rooms for the newbies (you’ve got to hand it to those canny Turkish architects – they know how to squeeze as many bodies into a building as possible). And of course, all the occupants were English.

Naturally, this accommodation grossly offended my Kiwi great outdoors sensibilities, and although I had zip bargaining power, I somehow managed to negotiate a room in a civilian apartment building a couple blocks away. Although it did have an existing tenant (mentioned a few posts back), had no running water, and had last been cleaned at the time of the Young Turk Revolution, it did have windows and a back room that looked out onto an inner courtyard. Ideal for getting pished in the evenings on sickly sweet Maramures red wine and flirting with the school girls a few floors below.

Not that my own sleeping quarters were particularly salubrious. The only window opened into a peculiar shaft type of arrangement for dispersing cooking smells, although it also had the odd effect of funnelling the sound of conjugal rights being enacted. No running water was a bit of an issue, especially as my flatmate had a habit of violently evacuating his bowels after regular nights of doner kabab washed down with liberal amounts of raki. This tended to result in the splattering of a very lumpy mustardy-beige substance with the consistency of clay over the foot marks on the squat toilet that were difficult to extirpate without the aid of a high-pressure hose. Ablutions in general were conducted via a large bucket filled with mineral water purchased at the corner shop. Ah, those were the days.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Covering the guilty tracks

Erm, now I feel like a right numpty for that little rant, but not wanting to delete a post when we're so tantalisingly close to that magical triple figure, I have no option but to write something to try to bury my tracks as smartly as possible. But I guess I shouldn't be sign-posting that rant so prominenty here. Shit, oh well.

I'm becoming a bit curmudgeonly in my dotage, as was evident the other day when my normal route to work was barred by a film crew. I was happily immersed in my own musical planet listening to some Only Ones when some git started flapping his arms in front of me. Turns out they were filming a commercial for Telecom, so I gave the guy a right ticking off along the lines of 'just what world needs, some more product placement'. Not that I even watch the box these days. Then I noticed that whenever I sit on the commuter train or bus in and out of Wellington, the empty seat beside me is always the last one to be filled. Fuck, I'm not sitting beside that freak, everyone must be thinking.

Change of subject: finally got Cloud Atlas today, Rotten. Looks very good going by the blurb on the back. I then discovered a big stash of HST under the 'New Journalism' tag that I hadn't noticed before. Had the full panopoly of classics there, all the letters and numerous biographies. I know where to go next time. Fear & Loathing was a nice little hors d'ouvre.

Finally, tvc may not have seen that Paul Greengrass (Blood Sunday, United 93) is in pre-production to film Imperial Life Inside The Emerald City. Can't wait to see that one.

Office cubicle rage

I know I said I’d sworn off bagging employers, but an exception has to be made today. Has anyone else ever felt like presenting a manager or three for ritual public humiliation and torture? I had in mind a mass-attended butt-fucking by 45 John Holmes clones, followed by a couple hours of water-boarding and concluded with extraordinary rendition to an Egyptian prison for a quiet garrotting with a piece of very smelly cheese wire.

These feelings of something less than amity were provoked by some very, very obtuse and wilfully ignorant questions stemming from an inability to read earlier communications on the importance of delivery of certain information within strictly defined timeframes. One belated answer I got was a request to supply some ‘context’ to my urgent follow-up queries today, as well as an enquiry into what the precise nature was of the legislation that obligates us to report on this and that. It’s certainly true what is said of management: “Shit floats to the top”, and there are a number of malodorous little floaters in this general vicinity. In my parallel universe, I answered along the lines of: “Listen you cloth-eared twat, only someone with the IQ of an intellectually handicapped hamster could have asked a question like that. Are you taking any medication for what is clearly a chronic form of cognitive dysphasia? Please do not interrupt me ever again with your chromosome-missing twitterings, unless you would like a personal audience with my good friend, Anotoli Kalashnikov, aged 47.”

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Begün hava čok soğuk

Went to see a Turkish movie called 'Riza' at the International Film Festival at the weekend. A bit of a lugubrious number to say the least, but rather good in any case. It also got me thinking again about the six months I spent there in 1992, especially the views around Sultanamet and across the Bosphorus toward Taksim Square. Got me thinking about whether that great red light district is still nearby Taksim Square, not that I ever took my love to town, primarily because my credit card was still dry and the wares the ladies were offering looked decidedly low grade or a couple decades passed their used-by date. I got to know Sultanamet reasonably well during the first 10 days of my Ottoman sojourn because that's where I holed up following my financially ruinous four-day train ride through Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria from Tubingen in Swabia. Originally, I had purchased a DB ticket to Istanbul via the Skopje Express. I naturally asked whether the train still ran to Macedonia through Croatia given that the Serbs and Croats were engaged in genocidal warfare, but was assured by the Swabian trainmeisters that there was nothing to worry about. Following my arrival in Munich I suspiciously wasn't able to find my connection to Skopje. Upon further enquiry in the information office I was incredulously asked whether I knew the Serbs and Croats were engaged in genocidal warfare. If I filled out these forms in triplicate and waited two months I might be able to get 75% of the cost of my ticket back. Thanks Deutsche bahnhof. That's when I made the fatal decision to purchase the fateful additional train fare via Hungary.

Once I finally arrived in Istanbal I quickly escaped the company of the deadbeats that I'd latched onto during the journey in order to scavenge some food from their tables. I immediately made a bee-line for the language school in Kadikoy that had so eagerly accepted my
£300 in exchange for a four-week TEFL course of very dodgey repute. They told me I'd have to wait 10 days before accommodation became available, so I hustled on back to Sultanamet and booked myself into the cheapest hostel I could find in the shadow of the Blue Mosque. This hostel was run by a group of likely young lads whose main purpose in pursuing this line of work was clearly to try to get jiggy-jiggy with as many Western women as possible. And despite their very amateurish attempts and glaringly obvious modus operandi, they often succeeded, especially with the shrill Aussie sheilas. Apparently this was because they'd never heard a bloke saying they loved them so much. Hmmm. A sophisticated tactic.

Because of my lack of cash in those days I wasn't able to do a helluva lot. One of the ways of whiling away the time was to lurk about on the waterfront where the ferries took on passengers for the 20 minute trip to the Asian side of the Bosphorus. That was where you could watch the fishermen come in with their catch for the day and buy some freshly grilled fish, roasted pistachios or sheep's intestine. They were also building the tramline from the railway station up through Sultanamet at the time, so gazing at the workers humping around large blocks of concrete while assuming the eastern crouch also killed several hours of each day. And of course I also managed to pick up some very important phrases, such as the title to this post: "Today is very hot"; it's a lot more practical than 'seni seviyorum', which means 'I love you' or 'siktakit' (that's a transliteration only), which I used only once, to my cost: 'Fuck off!'

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

A rum story

Rotten will be pumped up like a proselytising pastor on Pervitin following news that Johnny Depp is to reprise his role as Raoul Duke (yes, I can bandy his name around now that I’ve been cured of my ignorance) in a cinematic adaptation of HST’s autobiographical The Rum Diaries. Given the fashion these days of filming in Prague, perhaps there’s a chance of a bit role, although I guess it might be hard to dress up the city of a thousand spires to look like Costa Rica circa 1959. Depp himself is not a stranger to the city, having filmed From Hell there a few years ago. My Maori neighbour has a picture of himself and Depp from Prague when he worked a few days as the boom handler (is that what they call it?) on that film during a professional softball gig in CZ. He used to play for the New Zealand Black Sox national softball team – my neighbour that is, not Depp – which has won the World Championships five times running, so the players are in hot demand around the world. He knocked up his Czech girlfriend while over there, and that’s why we sometimes have Maori-Czech seven-year-old twins to look after.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

A further distraction from my studies

Like the greatest cricketing all-round of all time, Sir Richard Hadlee, I am similarly driven (on the odd occasion at least) by the shameless need to claim my place in statistical legends. While I can't boast an overall bowling average of 21.3 runs per wicket or a batting century against the West Indies (in my one competitive match I struck a flukey four before being bowled second ball), I can boast that, with your help, we have made July the second most prolific month of this blog. Give yerselfs a pat on the back.

As the title indicates, I'm just using this as a distraction from my studies. I was meant to submit my third assignment today, but I'm only about a fifth of the way through it. Have to write seven annotated bibliographies of long-winded and dense academic tracts on ecofeminism. I could have chosen another topic, but by the time I thought about it it was too late (I'd blindly started into the text book without bothering to discern what the subject matter was). No time to change tack now. I did find out some tidbits of mildly interesting trivia, however. Apparently, women condemned to be burned at the stake as witches in medieval times were in fact nothing more than your local family planning consultants who advised the female population on contraception methods. This is was deemed to be a challenge to the authority of the lairds and the church, and so death it was. And I always thought 'tree-hugger' was a pejorative term dreamed up by some nutso right-way nazi American columnist like Ann Coulter, but actually it stems from the Chipko people's movement in Uttar Pradesh, India, formed to prevent the decimation of their forest habitat. Chipko, or its longer title, which I can't remember at the moment, actually means 'to hug a tree'.

Um, yeah, that's it really. Rotten will be pleased to learn that I've finally purchased some HST and am currently imbibing that each night. Will hopefully be able to swap quotes with you shortly.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Rules on how to stay sane

Rule number one: it's okay to have fantasies (especially if your favourite pub in Zizkov is one), but they must also be within the realms of the realistic and achievable, even if the chances are miniscule. For example, I used to fantasise about being Pavarotti, or at least having his lungs minus the girth, and playing La Scala every night for a year. But that's not a very practical fantasy. When I was ten years old and dreaming up ways of escaping my insanely strict and religious mother, I would fantasise that Farah Fawcett-Major was my old lady and we would ride to school together each day on horses (fuck, that's a bit weird). Or kicking the school bully in the nuts and not only getting away with it, but having him pay homage to me forever after. Neither were those particularly achievable fantasies.

Now, however, I get myself to sleep each night (yes, very good at the back there in the cheap seats, haha) by dreaming blissfully about the great journey to be embarked upon next year. Yes, I'm going to bore you all to death with this one at least once a week from now until it happens. I made some more enquiries about flight tickets on Friday, as I've heard it's possible to get return tickets to Prague, but get dropped off somewhere in the subcontinent along the way. I thought maybe I could cut some kilometres off the planned route by flying into Tehran, but that's about the most expensive option. Most probably I'll keep to the Delhi idea and limit my time there and give Pakistan only a week at most. This is because it dawned on me the other day that it's actually about 8,000km from Delhi to Prague and eight or ten weeks isn't actually that much. Especially not when I want to concentrate on Iran and Turkey: the latter to make up for the six months I spent there in 1992 prior to my passage to CZ, when I managed to get out of Istanbul all of two times. One of the those times had to be cut short when my credit card ran dry in Cannakale, and the other time was a trip to Zonguldak courtesy of the hypnotically beautiful Alev, for whom I just about had my buttocks impaled. Although if I were to be 100% honest, which isn't always the case (swift intake of breath), the real reason I went there was her little sister Ebru.

Digression Alert! When I first arrived in Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul, it was into an apartment on the top floor of a seven storey building about ten minutes walk from the waterfront. Sokak Yogurcu, I think was the name of the street. And only five minutes from my employer, English Fast, which generously put me up 10 days before my TEFL course started (cheapest in Europe and matched only by TEFL courses in Cairo) because I'd drained my resources on the epic train journey from Munich. That's another post all on its own, but one digression is enough. The only drawback about this apartment was that I had to share it with an Englishman. Yeah, I know, and it was a cross to bear, believe me. Worse than that, he had a girlfriend who was also English. Yeeeech! She was a total minger and drank like a rainbow, so my flatmate had to shag her early in the evening while the going was good. Her only redeeming feature was the fact that she doubted my intentions toward women long before I recognised them myself. For a simple buran like me, Turkey proved to be my inexorable undoing because it was the first non-Anglo-Saxon country I'd ever resided in, i.e. it was the first country I'd come across where women made their interest more than obvious. It's been a precipitous and very steep downward slope ever since. Should I take the blue pill or the red pill? Whichever it was, I took the yo! open-your-mind-motherfucker pill, and gone forever was that sweet age of innocence (now I'm starting to write like Yoda). Sooooooo, when I leaned over the balcony that looked into our internal courtyard one day and looked down, I saw this most amazing aparition staring back at me. That was Ebru, and to this very day I swear that Turkish women are the most gorgeous I have ever seen. Of course, when you come from the Land of Skank like I do, then it's understandable that women from anywhere else would appear criminally beautiful, but my own personal epiphany occurred in Turkey.

Unfortunately, while I was a mere youngling of 23, Ebru was only 16, and on the Asian side of Istanbul anything was most definitely not possible. Actually, I take that back, because then I met Dilek, who was most definitely not shy about being forward, but that's a darker episode of the personal history that I will only delve into when I get really, really desperate to write something for the blog. Okay, I also met Ebru's sister, Alev, before Dilek...oh, shit, I can't remember the dates at all really...but Alev was almost as stunning as her sister and she possessed the inestimable advantage of being four years older. On the negative side of the ledger, however, she also had a boyfriend already, although she kept that fairly quiet until my cultural awareness radar finally started to pick up some traffic, by which time it was a bit too late. Hence the reference to impalings of sharp utensils into soft underside tissue.

God, and I thought I started to write about Iran. Back on track then: even though I'm not a big fan of Lonely Planet, they are the only big travel guide publishers with a book dedicated to Iran, so I got one on Friday. BradtTravel do one as well, but I've had to order online for that one. Possible routes in are train via Quetta in Pakistan, which would bring me out at the border crossing of Mirjaveh. From there I could go to the 'lonely, silent, crumbling city on a mountain' in Kuh-E-Khajeh before retracing my steps to Zahedan and then on to Bam of devastating earthquake fame. But here I'm sinking into needless detail. Ultimately what I really want to see is Persopolis, the famed Islamic architecture of Estafan and Shiraz, Tehran, and some of the villages and towns on the coast of the Caspian Sea. More importantly, I want to experience some of that reknown Iranian hospitality and friendliness before Jester George and the President potentially fuck up the region even more than it already is.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

I served the box office

Anybody seen Obsluhoval jsem anglickeho krale yet? Probably a dumb question given that it's likely to have been in circulation now for a couple years. We saw it last night courtesy of the annual International Film Festival at the theatre that underwent a $60m makeover for the world premier of The Return of the King (almost no need to write NZ$ or US$ anymore since we're up to US81c and rising - fastest strengthening currency in the world allegedly, which I suspect is bollocks because we're still losing value against the crown).

Have to admit I was slightly disappointed by the film after reading some fairly over-the-top reviews of it at europeanfilms.com and some other extremely earnest arthouse site (almost identical reviews actually, so someone was showing a definite lack of initiative). They gave the distinct impression that Menzel had produced another masterpiece to compare with Ostre sledovane vlaky and Skrivanci na niti, with pastiche black-and-white slapstick comedy scenes to rival Chaplain. The opening scene at the train station was said to be an example of the latter, but I was singularly unimpressed and not stitching my sides up as a result. And after four years of marriage and five years away from Central Europe I was anticipating the alleged “gratuitous nudity” with more than a little bottled-up salacious middle-aged macintosh-coated excitement. But it all turned out slightly flaccid in the end in comparison with what one is used to from Czech cinema. I do agree though that Menzel does film naked women with an artistic eye that you rarely see from anyone else. The scene of the millionaires feasting at a circular table while simultaneously feasting their eye on a lightly-clad young woman lying supine on a revolving ‘lazy Susan’ in the middle was worth the price of admission.

And for dedicated Liberazzi there was even a shot of our very own Reichenberg radnice. But more than that, I discovered during my virtual wandering that another film has been produced that is based wholly in Liberec – Grand Hotel. No surprises that it’s filmed at that monstrosity on top of Jested, but I wonder if anyone’s seen it. I note the director is the same as he of Samotari fame, so does that mean it’s quite good? Does Rotten have a part as a cadaver or a diner in the background?

Obsluhoval jsem anglickeho krale was meant to have provoked controversy in CZ, but I haven’t found any reference to what exactly that means yet. I presume it has something to do with the inherent criticism made of the treatment of the Sudeten Germans in the aftermath of the war, huh?

Monday, 23 July 2007

Rugby, racing & beer

Not a lot of blogging action recently, huh? Here's another fill-in to keep the numbers up. It was the final of the Tri-Nations as well as the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday night, and despite my absence during the first half while I chatted to my insurance company, the ABs showed traditional grit to overpower the Aussie bastards 26-12. That pudgey twat Matt Dunning showed just what a paucity of good front row players the Ockers have, as the Man Mountain Carl Hayman wiped the paddock with him. Okay, I'm not too good at rugby commentaries and will end up doing some serious mixed or inappropriate metaphor shit, so I'll leave you to watch this Kiwi rugby skit on YouTube.

Oh, and the reason I was on the blower to the insurance company for half-an-hour was to lodge a claim for our compacted car. Somehow the missus managed to side-swipe a stationary car parked on the side of a perfectly straight road. I could see it coming since I was sitting in the passenger's seat and while I considered reaching over and making a deft turn of the steering wheel, all I managed to do in time was whimper a weak "oh, God...". Fortunately the owners of the victim car took it all in their stride. It was only the third time it had happened to them. They even drove us home after we'd swapped contact details. Only now we have to wait probably ten working days before an insurance assessment is made. Moral of the story: If you make comments on your wife's driving, it's because you really do know best.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Never too early to prepare for global travel

Other wine cellar trips came back to me in a flash the other night, but I’ll save them for when I’m truly desperate to write something…Hmmm, I suppose that would be now, but I just wanted to point out that I’ve been purposefully filling in the last couple of days visiting all the outdoor equipment shops in pursuit of a sturdy and reliable one-person tent. It’s not that difficult to do in Wellington where all the tramping shops are located virtually along the same strip. And the point of hunting down a good quality tent is that it’s time to begin planning with military precision the travel campaign for next year. It’s getting on toward the end of July afterall, which leaves just 7 or 8 months before departure.

As I’ve mentioned before, a potential plan of attack is to parachute into New Delhi or Kathmandu and reconnoitre the Himalayan foothills before the peak season tourist hordes arrive. I won’t be doing the Annapurna trail in Nepal because of the newly introduced system of compulsory guides for all foreigners, but I’ve been doing some preliminary reading on other 10 or 15-day treks that will require packing up a two or three kilogram tent. As I’ll spend six to eight weeks travelling overland to Prague through Pakistan, Iran, (maybe Syria) and Turkey as well, I’ll try to stop off along the way for the odd trek in one or two of those countries as well. Plus I want to give the Jeseniky and Beskydy a good once over. At the moment, my only semi-concrete plan is to head north of Delhi into the Himalayan area of Uttarakhand province to walk through the Valley of Flowers, as per the picture pilfered from Wikipedia.
I stopped by a travel agent’s yesterday afternoon to enquire about the cost of flight tickets to Kathmandu or New Delhi. Thanks to the strength of the Kiwi dollar at the moment (worth US80c) you can get return flights to Delhi for around NZ$1,500. Tickets to Kathmandu on the other hand are around NZ$2,000, but I’d only head there if my Indian-Malay friend, Sukanya, is still in Pokhara working for the UN and who could possibly stitch up a job for me at a later date. If you’re wondering about the return aspect of New Delhi, that’s because it would work out cheaper to get a budget fare on AirIndia from Prague to Delhi by the time I’m ready to head back in August or September. (It’s all very curious this business of cheap flight tickets; the bubble of cheap aviation fuel and tax-free status of international air travel has to burst soon.)

By the way, this talk of exchange rates has got me curious about what’s happening to the crown. The Kiwi keeps getting stronger and stronger against other currencies all the time, but it keeps getting weaker against the Czech currency. What’s the story there? What’s driving that strength? Rotten, you dabble in the financial markets to keep yourself away from the dirty business of paid employment, so what gives? It’s most disconcerting.