Friday, 29 June 2007


Made it back to Wellington without reinforcing John Cleese’s opinion of Palmerston North. It was quite attractive in the morning actually, with views of the wind turbines on the Te Apiti Wind Farm glimpsed through the mist covering the surrounding Tararua Ranges. And I picked up a few hints on how to get out of the public service for good and launch a career in the overseas development sector, although it’ll require some girding of the cajones as I’ll have to venture into the uncharted territory of consultancy and severe the umbilical chord to the certainty of a regular income and four weeks’ annual leave. It may have to wait until next year’s trip is out of the way though.

But much more importantly, I wanted to offer heartfelt congratulations to tvc and his good lady wife on the miscegenated production of the second member of the next generation. I am most envious and not only of the growing family, but also the wife’s ability to rebound from childbirth within a couple days looking like she’s undergone nothing more than an earlobe piercing operation.

I haven’t seen pictures of E. for ages, tvc, so I recommend you follow the example of Bedřich and put some images on a photoshare site where it’s easy to view updates. I hope Bedřich won’t mind if I put the link to his pics here. Our Man In Liberec also puts his baby picks at the same site here.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

A quick log-in from Palmerston North

Have escaped from work for two days to attend a 'contact course' at Massey University at its main campus in Palmerston North. Not much of a city really, as John Cleese noted during a tour here last year. He described it as the sort of place you go to if you want to put yourself in the mood to kill yourself. He's not too far off the mark actually, so check out this blog in a couple days' time to see whether I survived or not.

In the meantime I just had to check in in order to post more historic records sent in by PAM. You should recognise these images, inspired by PAM's reading of the last post here on beer experiences. Looks like tvc has been keeping up his end on pivni zkusenosti as well, and as a result I'll be expecting some particularly good tips on tavern trekking in about nine months' time. Here are PAM's pictures in the meantime:

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Ještĕ jedno, prosim Vas

And the second is this review of Czech beer experiences, some of which I’m ashamed to say I have not partaken in. I do recognise some pubs, however, including U Medvidku off Narodni třida, which I used sup on a Budvar at the end of a hideous day’s work at Wood&Co listening that terrible slepice who filed her nails and talked to her boyfriend all day on the phone. In fact, by the end of my time there I think I was spending three-hour lunchbreaks in that pub just to get away from her. Remember that Rotten? Another is Malostranska pivnice around the corner from the Irish embassy in Mala strana, although I always found it a bit too touristy for my taste and totally lacking atmosphere. According to this article they serve unpasteurised Plzensky prazdroj there, but that must be new coz I never recall drinking any at that particular establishment.

North Bohemia gets a mention in the guise of the sklarna pub in Harrachov. I don’t know it, since it wasn’t established until my departure in 2002, but it looks well worth a visit. Do Rotten or Bedrich or Our Man In Liberec know that one at all? Things must have moved a lot in the past five years, as I thought I knew just about all the pubs in Prague worth knowing. Hence one of my first port of calls upon my return next year will be to the Prvni Pivni Tramway. I thought my favourite pub would at least score a mention though – U Hrochu beside the snĕmovna. I remember a particularly raucous time there with Bedrich waiting to get his passport renewed since the pub is just down the street from the British embassy.

Finally, the little pivovar in Štramberk serving Troobacz looks idyllic. You been there at all tvc, since you’re the closest?

We’ve been downing a bit of slivovice here in recent days thanks to some ex-pat mates in Turangi. I’m pretty sure it’s not that hard to make and I’ll give a bash myself this summer.

Book burning

A couple interesting articles in today’s Guardian (yeah, I know, I should read something else for a change). The first one is particularly relevant for Rotten. It’s about Robert McKee’s book Story, which I recall him talking about in an email to me some months ago. I haven’t actually read the book myself, but thought Rotten might be amused by this wag’s description of it…For those of you who don't know who McKee is, he lectures on film scriptwriting and was brilliantly portrayed by Brian Cox in the Nicholas Cage/Meryl Streep/Chris Cooper film Adaptation.

Summer Plans

Read through Kivak's latest wanderings about atheism, Agnes the Nigerian podvodnice and the miseries of owning property in Prague. Very entertaining. The only criticism I have today is that the picture of Budova A on the homepage should be F, right? At least it looks like F, our home at Harcov. Not sure why anyone would photograph A since we had no relationship with the place, unless Kivak was casing the place to locate easy shag targets...
Not too much to report from Morava. Have spent the last 5 weeks travelling as usual, finished up last week in Amsterdam (don't worry, postcard is in the mail) and cancelled a trip to Bulgaria. Partner there couldn't fill the week with meetings so I decided not to go and spend some time at home catching up.
I know JP and Matt are planning something up North this coming weekend, but I can't motivate myself for another trip just now. Having said that, all are welcome to Brno, got our deck furniture finally so stop by sometime. Promised Emma a trip to the Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna and since promises to 3 year olds cannot be broken or forgotten, we'll spend the first part of the upcoming svatky getting Emma to talk to animals in German....
Then a couple of trips around the region before The Summer Holiday, this year a week at Limone sul Garda on Lago di Garda above Verona and then a second week in Alto Adige - Sudtirol - South Tirol near Meran. Stasa vetoed the annual beach bake in Greece since we are expecting #2 this December and she doesn't want a hot destination this summer.
Kivak would be interested and perhaps a bit jealous to know that I'm planning a two week intensive Russian course in Odessa right after holiday. Need to get this in the portfolio for when we step up our CIS business activities next year. Should be fun. Odessa and the Black Sea in August.....I'll try to take some pictures. Then from September to Christmas non-stop travels and the business routine. So that's 2007 for me, hope all you guys are having a good year.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

The trouble with Zličín

Nah, the trouble isn’t that it’s home to one of those Brobdingnagian shopping malls (Metropole) that litter the Czech Republic, provide an outlet through material accumulation for Czechs’ sense of spiritual bewilderment, and generally remind one of the mall sequences in Zombies’ Dawn of the Dead. It’s not even that it’s a favourite location for some innocent bus spotting. It’s that we still own a flat there and each year we have the same problem with finding new tenants after the current ones decide they need to move well in advance of the contractual agreement (well, ‘contractual’ in a very loose sense of the word – the missus doesn’t pay tax on the rental income, meagre though it is, and as a result she’s adamant that she’ll get banged up in jail if she ventures back for more than a holiday…).

Hence the potential installation of Rotten as a temporary property manager (sorry mate, I’ll provide more information as it comes to hand; will look good on the CV if nothing else). I’m getting it in the neck here because I didn’t agree to sell the place when an offer was made a couple years ago. I was motivated at the time by the requirement to have some domicile once we returned to live in Prague at a later date, but as you know, that’s all turned to custard. Much to my chagrin, the place does now have to be sold, so that’s the main driving force behind next year’s trip. But given that half of it belongs to the brother-in-law and given the mammoth expenses we’re now facing (discussed yesterday), we may not get too much loose change out of it.

I guess it wouldn’t have been that much fun living there anyhow, as the neighbourhood’s not that salubrious, even though Metropole is hidden from view. There are no pubs in the area, and the only place to whet your whistle is the bowling alley or the herna bar that tvc and I investigated last time around. Then again, the flat’s part of a činzak rather than a panelak, so you don’t get the pissing in a bowl effect from upstairs. And because it’s right on the southern edge of Prague, there’s easy bus access to the villages and walking tracks of Praha Jih-Praha Východ.

Perhaps if we have any money left we could invest in some nice property in nearby Brdy. I understand there’ll soon be lots of wealthy American technicians spending up large there. Cha-ching.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Send all donations here

No more knobby boasts from me about being well-heeled and dispensing largesse around the globe. Looks like we’re about shell out big time to line the pockets of doctors and lawyers with large dollops of cold hard cash. Not only are we about to start funding another cycle of IVF ourselves now that we’ve bled the government coffers dry, but we’re also about to begin the momentous task of seeking to adopt children from the Commonwealth of Independent States. Our roving software salesman, tvc, will be pleased to know that Agnes has therefore been let down gently and will not be able to pursue her (most probably legitimate) studies in Ghana (copies of her ID and fee invoices, and calls to the Ghanian Ministry of Education appeared to back her story up). I did send her something, but not nearly enough to pay her school fees unfortunately.

I won’t go into the details of the IVF treatment in case you’re eating your lunch, but suffice to say it doesn’t come cheap, even though the probability of a successful outcome is fairly minimal. Adoption, on the other hand, while twice as expensive, offers greater certainty and is bound to be far more of an adventure, which rather appeals to me.

We took the first step along this latter route last week when we had to attend a compulsory information evening staged by the government bureaucrats in charge of the process. While not offering any further insight into the challenges that lie ahead, it did reinforce our opinion that NZ adoption is too much of a lottery to warrant serious consideration. Inter-country adoption it is then. And as I’ve noted in earlier posts, we’re keen on some wee Slav scamps, with Lithuanian or Russian. We were originally misinformed by the bureaucrats that Russia was out of the question, but it appears it is possible via an adoption agency intermediary. Whichever country we choose, we’ll have to make trips back and forth, hence the heavy cost, but the upside is that you guys get to see lots of us! Waheh! Not you BA, sorry; you’ll have to haul your own private Idaho over to Yurp, as it’s not on the direct flightpath from here :( (I’m showing signs of early senility here since I forgot that I’m the only one who reads this.)

We’ve put in our application papers already. Now we have to wait to see whether we did it early enough to be booked into the next set of seminars that are meant to explain what we’re really letting ourselves in for. In the meantime, the government agents will check out our police and medical records, and interview a number of nominated referees. Then we’ll have the agents come around to our house to interview us, search for the whips and chains in our basement, note the presence of the Bible on the bookshelves (there’s going to be lots of crossing of fingers behind backs during this process), and generally ascertain that we’re fit and proper parents-to-be. This is called a ‘home study’, which will eventually have to be translated and sent to the adoption authorities in the country of our choosing. That’ll take six months from completion of the home study, so we’re looking at at least a year away. Then it could take another year before we’re informed of any children available for adoption, in which case the process of travelling back and forth and getting the appropriate legal documentation and court orders could take yet another year. During that initial six month period after completion of the home study we’ll also be permitted seek adoption in NZ, but it’s unlikely to result in anything and besides, you’re not allowed to have your fingers in several pies at once, i.e. you can’t be registered to adopt in both your home country and another (one) country. Ach jo. So if you’re feeling munificent, our bank account is now open for receipt of all donations ;)

Monday, 18 June 2007

What I did on my holiday in the Greek Islands

This is a little opener for Rotten once he’s back in town and is carting his packed lunch off to Barrandov each morning. I’ve only ever been there once, and that was a 24-hour stopover without too much ‘stop’ as I wended my way from Skopje to Thessaloniki (anyone read Salonika: City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower?) and then all the way down to Igoumenitsa on the mainland coast. Couldn’t afford to stop, as I was down to my last 50DM after travelling through nine countries in the previous 12 days with £200 borrowed from my brother. That was just enough to pay for the ferry up to Trieste. It was another killer journey though, as it was overnight once more and the cheapest tickets only afforded you a space on the open-air deck. I kept ducking into the television room to get a bit of kip, but the little tosser of a steward kept nudging me awake and spitting into my lughole, “You no sleep here!”

In Trieste I got a bus to Llublijana, but I didn’t quite have enough money to pay for the next bus ticket all way the home to CZ, but I could go as far as Vienna. Only I fell asleep on the bus and only woke up in Munich. Then I had to walk out of Munich and find my way to an autobahn where I attempted to hitchhike from a public toilet. Probably not the best gambit. Without turning a few tricks it consequently took me a full day to travel about 50km down the road. Germans are not the most generous of drivers, but one middle-aged woman did have the guts to pick me up as it was getting dark and put me up for the night. Her husband dropped me off at the most convenient hitchhiking post the next morning and I was across Rozvadov before lunch and in Plzen by early afternoon. Back in the money, I poured an entire vat of artery-hardening goulash down my neck in the station restaurant, smoked half a packet of Start bezfiltr and caught the train down to Železná Ruda where my trusty chauffeur, tvc, was waiting to accompany me on a fun-filled English-language camp for two weeks…(remember slashing that cowpoke’s tyres on his four-wheel-drive?; those were the days).

Walking across the border from Macedonia to Greece was actually one the hardest I’ve ever encountered. On a par with walking across the Bridge of Friendship from Georgiu, Romania, into Bulgaria. Usually, as a Kiwi, you can be assured almost every time of being waved through (apart from when Ukrainian conscripts want to photocopy your passport because they’ve never seen one from that part of the world before). This time though, the Greek border guards wanted to know why I had a middle name, my father had a middle name, and my mother had audacity to have two middle names. Got into a bit of a theological argument about that one, trying to explain the differences between Christianity and Greek Orthodox. It may have been my reference to the absence of smoke and mirrors in Protestanism that waylaid me longer than necessary. Pity I didn’t have Richard Dawkins with me. Still, I’m up for another trip to Greece if anyone’s keen next year.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Halfway up Mt Improbable

Erm, I'm sure I had something better to contribute than this, but I've forgotten for the moment. Perhaps it'll come back to me as I write this. Maybe it was that promised response to tvc, but then again, maybe not. Oh, thanks for the postcard tvc that turned up in our letterbox today. Yep, the airline hostesses do post them for free. By the way, it wasn't the same airline that Ralf Fiennes travels with was it? Apparently he was given free entry into the Mile High Club recently and the other passengers were a bit miffed, as I would be. It's not easy to get freebies like that these days.

I say halfway up Mt Improbable because I've got a long way to go before I can get my writing style to the peak of its evolution (although some might say it's gone as far as it can). And of course, you guessed it, I'm reading my way through Richard Dawkin's 'The God Delusion' at the moment and what a bloody good read it is, too. In fact, I just have to save this draft and nip away for a few more pages. Excuse me a moment.

...Okay, that was a whole day, but I'm back now. Anyhow, continuing the riff about Dawkins, I love that concept of "irreducible complexity" that 'intelligent design' advocates use to justify the 'obvious' existence of God and that Dawkins takes great delight in tearing to shreds. This theory posits the view that intelligently designed features of the natural world are so irreducibly complex that they can only have been created by God because without one of the parts that make up the whole they wouldn't possibly work. Dawkins rebutts the argument with his allusion to climbing Mt Probable: intelligent design would have us believe that an eye or a wing suddenly came into existence by leaping from the bottom of the cliff on one side of Mt Probable to the very peak. Dawkins and natural selection theorists however, show that eyes and wings evolve very slowly by gradually sidling up the gentle slope on the other side of Mt Probable through incremental and only slightly improbable steps that build upon one another until eventually you get something that seems highly improbable and hence intelligently designed. They're not irreducibly complex though, because an eye is still capable of seeing even after the lens has been surgically removed in a cataract operation, for example.

I know I'm verging on the very dull here and have probably overstepped tvc's 'bolshie rant' threshhold', but if you have the chance to read it, then do so. Dawkins is great at taking the piss out of his opponents, such as the reference to the court case on the imposition of intelligent design teaching in some school, when the inventor of the term, Professor Michael Behe (or is that inventor of the term 'flagellar motor' as an example of intelligent design') has his testimony described by the judge as "extraordinarily inane". There are also fine examples of writings by the Founding Fathers revealing nearly all of them to be either deists or out-and-out atheists, e.g. Thomas Jefferson. They'd be spinning in the graves at how very unsecular America has become.

Admittedly I haven't finished the book yet, and I know there has been heavily criticism of it in some non-religious academic and intellectual circles, not least the London Review of Books, but it's been enough so far to get me off my agnostic perch and come out as an atheist.

Sorry Rotten, I was going to get that Mitchell book you recommended, but I had to spend my Borders birthday vouchers and they didn't stock it. Hence The God Delusion and Cormac McCarthy's The Border Trilogy. Have just finished Norm Mailer's The Castle in the Forest about Hitler's childhood; a very good read also, but one or two plot holes that reveal Norm to be the 84-year-old that he is.

And lastly before I forget, I just wanted to say that I saw The Pursuit of Happiness the other day and I haven't been more nauseated by a film in a long time. Happiness is apparently all about becoming a stock broker and making a stack of loot, end of story. Not very satisfying sorry.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Humping Les Bleus

Typical start to the international rugby season, with All Blacks taking a couple tests to get into their stride at the expense of the French. It started out with an error-prone 42-10 win last weekend, but things improved a bit last night to run up the biggest score ever against Les Bleus - 61-10. Sure, it was a third-string French team which ended the match with only 14 players after the entire reserves bench had been used up, but it was a reasonable warm-up for the Tri-Nations. And the outcome broke the world record for number of consecutive wins at home - 23.

It was only the second test I've ever been to, although I missed a fair bit of it in an attempt to take some pictures. All were total shite, but I at least got this photo of Julien Laharrague scoring the only French try of the evening. All the official photographers were at the other end of the ground recording the usual wave of All Black tries, but this may be a unique picture.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

A checkered flag

Here's one that 'London Agnes' sent me. In preparation for a Topolanek visit to Pakistan, some numpty at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must have been designated the task of researching some Czech background and finding out what the country's symbols were. Since one way of spelling Czech is 'check', what other conclusion could you come to other than racing's checkered flag as the national flag...

And while on the subject of political visits, I see that Dubya has just dropped around Mirek's place to receive some metaphorical fellating and to swap some light-highted banter over the light-sabre rattling exchanged between them and Vlad. Here's Steve Bell's take on the visit and Dubya's reassertion of the fight for democracy:

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

New Zealand’s influence on the US presidential elections

Yeah, well done there tvc. Loved that apposite title you gave your post. You may have been lulled into some sense of anticipation that you would get a flood of comments and/or or a whole bunch of follow-up posts, but alas, it’s been a no-show. Welcome to the blogosphere! Nevertheless, don’t think you’ve been absolved from ongoing contributions, although you have managed to wipe the slate clean in terms of the demerit points you’d built up over the past few months. And to be fair, I will have something to write about your latest discourse shortly. What’s been holding me up is a gargantuan fuck-off essay I’m having to write for my university paper that as usual should have been completed a couple weeks ago. Don’t worry though – I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account of the subject matter since you’ve generously warned me off academic tirades.

All I really wanted to do is allude to New Zealand’s influence on one of the possible outcomes of the elections we’re so much looking forward to next year. I refer here to the anticipated announcement of Fred Thompson’s candidacy for the Republic Party’s nomination for President. Apart from being a lobbyist, lawyer (co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee – “What did the President know and when did he know it?”) and former senator from Tennessee, you’ll all know Fred better of course from his acting gigs on Die Hard II: Die Harder and Law & Order. So what the fek has he got to do with Aotearoa? Well, he got his big acting break from Roger Donaldson, director of the first ever New Zealand movie shown in US cinemas called Sleeping Dogs (starring Warren Oates because first-choice Jack Nicholson thought NZ$5,000 wouldn’t even pay his green fees back in 1977), which launched the career of Sam Neil. Roger Donaldson and Sam Neil these days are close neighbours in Queenstown, in the central South Island, where they both grow wine. Roger is also responsible for that huge box office and critical success, Cocktail, which destroyed Bryan Brown’s career while Teflon Tom Cruise managed to keep on turning out other bilge. Strange how Hollywood works. Roger is, however, also responsible for some minor successes, like No Way Out, Thirteen Days, and The Fastest Indian in the World.

But to bring an end to this long story, Donaldson and Thompson were introduced as a result of the the 1977 Ray Blanton-Tennessee Parole Board scandal when became the subject of a 1983 book, Marie (I assume you Americans know all about this coz I don’t). Donaldson bought the film rights and travelled to Nashville to speak with the people involved with the original case. After meeting with Thompson, Donaldson asked Thompson if he wanted to play himself in the movie; Thompson agreed. The resulting film, Marie, was released in 1985. Donaldson then cast Thompson in the part of the CIA Director in his next movie, No Way Out, in 1987. Enough already? In other words, Thompson owes his big break in the public eye to a Kiwi ;)
How about voting for another, better actor for President? Make it count and give one for Christopher Walken.

Friday, 1 June 2007

A Contribution

In order to stop Kivak from calling me a "lazy cunt" in email correspondences, I have decided to make a contribution to this lovely Blog. Did take the time yesterday while travelling from Lithuania to Vienna to read through most of the entries from February till now (speed reading through Kivak's more earnest Bolshie rants) and have a few observations most of which will surprise no one and only confirm that good old Kivak hasn't really changed too much since leaving CZ, which is comforting.

1. Still a raving left-wing loony (I dig that Bush countdown thing you've got here, by the way)

2. Likes a little porno in the workplace (Tip: if your next employer has installed WebMarshall, skip the porn break after lunch and buy a home PC where you can surf to your heart's content after the missus has retired for the evening)

3. Has a little issue with authority at work and has yet to win a Positive Contributor of the Year Award from any of his employers

4. Needs to take a few writing lessons from Rotten after he gets back in country

Having read all this I'm beginning to think Kivak needs to leave the public/government/NGO sector for good and get a job with a private company that involves selling something or otherwise making a lot of money for the bank/firm, whatever, while under a lot of pressure. Make sure you have a boss like Gordon "lunch is for wimps" Gekko from the movie Wall Street who really won't give a shit about you surfing naughty web sites, buttering the Kleenex or whatever else it was that got you in hot water with the boss lady at your last job, just as long as you make the numbers whatever it takes. Good advice, huh? Might change the old perspective on things.

Right. Onwards. Not much new to report from here. Was in Dallas last week, flew back at the weekend to Vienna, slept most of the way thanks to whacking down about 5 margaritas before boarding the flight to Frankfurt. Spent a few days in Vilnius with customers. Had one guy there on a reference visit from Romania. Lebanese bloke with a libido that would put Kivak's to shame back in the old days. Had to take him to a strip joint where he dropped about 600 EUR in drinks and "tips". What we have to do sometimes to make these people buy something.....Highly recommended destination, kivak go and adopt your brood of kids there. Here's what you should do: take Rita in the spring and summer and delegate all adopting responsibility to her, let her sort it out. You go and sit in a cafe (I'll tell you where) in the Old Town, order a strong pint of Lithuanian lager (5.5% alc to 15% which is basically malt licker) and watch the people (yes, I mean short skirts) go by for a few hours. After a few pints you'll love Lithuania too.

Now I'm home for a few days but will be out and about in Amsterdam and various East European destinations till mid-July. Tough on the family but I promised them a really, really nice summer holiday to make up for my absence next 5 weeks. Really nice, I promise....

Will end this entry with another recommendation: Berlin. Home of my pre-Liberazzi university days spent mostly studying and tasting German beers. Went up to meet an old friend from NYC, picked up Matt Griffon who some of you may know in Goerlitz and had a three day reunion sesh which culminated in this picture, taken Sunday morning a few weeks ago at around 7:30 AM after the last bar kicked us out. I decided a little Nemirof Ukrainian honey&pepper flavored vodka with a little tomato juice would be just the trick to end the evening (morning) on the right note. Credits to Matt for the creative photo editing. A few hours after this photo was taken he fled Berlin on a Dresden and Liberec- bound train, obviously not interested in spending another day with the likes of me.

I must sound like such a boozer. But this was a one-off. Really.

P.S. Kivak, thanks for the cards. I sent you one yesterday from the plane. A card you tear off the boxed lunch of Schweinebraten mit Sauerkraut & Semmelknoedel that Austrian Airlines served me. The stewardess is supposed to mail it for free so let's see if it indeed does make its way to the B..... estate down at L.... H....