Friday, March 18, 2011

We are the champions

On 18th March 1965, The Rolling Stones were fined 8.50 Dollars (that's about 150 Crowns in village money) for urinating in a public place; aforesaid public place being a petrol station in Essex. Exactly 46 years later, despite public toilets, outdoor toilets, portable toilets, houses with three toilets etc. the habit is not only still firmly entrenched today in the village and the wider surroundings but seems to have been taken to an entirely new level.

Its something that everyone has done but its the way its done here................Whereas most people in other countries simply scuttle off into the nearest bushes in order to be out of view and hope that no one has seen them, here in broad daylight the men simply turn their backs to the passing motorists, cyclists and pedestrians and just go. Motorway exits are a frequent stopping place (too risky with high winds and speeding traffic to actually go on the motorway) and besides the cars haphazardly pulled over is usually a line of men with their backs to the traffic. Sometimes a kind of camaraderie can be seen to build up with much banter between new found friends.

Women are much more discreet (i.e. the bushes) but like the men, make no secret of where they are going and what they will be doing when they get there. Hence a long line of waiting traffic frequently produces two or three women making a quick dash for the nearest bush while the men saunter out to the side of the road in full view.

Just look what you boys started..........

The activity does have its advantages though. On driving through an adjoining village and spotting the police and immediately slowing and hoping not to be on the receiving end of a police check, I breathed a sigh of relief to see that the Police Officer was more concerned with relieving himself against a nearby tree than measuring the speed limit and if I was carrying a reflective vest in my car.

Its a fairly laid back attitude although to some in the village, its a natural way of life. When building our house the team of builders looked askance when told that a portable toilet would be put up for their use. After several grumbles and a quick meeting next to newly arrived bags of cement, the Foreman took me to one side to explain that it was a nice offer but they really didn't need it and proceeded to explain and demonstrate that as long as you got your back to someone then you were in the right position. Subsequently the portable toilet simply gathered dust over the subsequent six months. At a recent birthday party held outside in the garden, the toilets in the house were designated for the women and the field behind the garden was designated for the men. There were no complaints, just quiet acceptance.

So, should they make roadside peeing an Olympic sport, I know who my money is on......

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lighting up the village

Last week the Pink Floyd tribute band, "The Australian Pink Floyd" played in Prague. This was great for those of us whose formative teenage years consisted of trying to fit "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" on one side each of a C90 cassette before returning the albums at school the next day. The good thing about the Australian Pink Floyd is that you know exactly what's coming - greatest hits, lasers, 3D effects, inflatable pigs and so on, and all very well done at that. Just like the real Pink Floyd, except Australian.

A few weeks ago a student of mine told me she was going to see the 1990s Irish band, The Cranberries, that particular evening. Upon expressing surprise that not only had they reformed but were playing in a neighbouring village just three bus stops and ten minutes hitch-hiking time away, she rolled her eyes and retorted "Don´t be silly, they play here all there time".

It turns out that rather than Ms O'Riordan and Co. upping sticks and heading for the land of the dumpling, my student had simply fallen for the old tribute poster scam that is rather prevalent in these parts. This involves using the original band name and logo in large size letters followed by words such as "revival", "tribute" or similar in microscopically small print at the bottom of the poster. Thus, various revival and tribute versions of AC/DC, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones (complete with a bald Keith Richards and Paul McCartney replacing Bill Wyman on bass) have all appeared in various village halls and pubs in the region within the last few years. 

The most memorable tribute band to have played in the village were the imaginatively titled KISS (me) who played in the Village Hall a few years ago when headlining the annual Valentines Day Masquerade Ball, a major event in the village calendar and almost on a par with the ceremonial switching on of the Christmas lights in December. Maybe the idea was that KISS (me), being kind of masked themselves, would fit the theme as it were.

No thanks Gene - we prefer bluegrass............

After regurgitating "God gave Rock n Roll to you"  into "Dog save Guacamole, do you", the band decided to bring the pyrotechnic part of the show forward, presumably to take the attention away from the deafening silence that greeted the opening number. As the bass player began to unscrew the top of the bottle containing lighter fuel that had been placed at his feet, the first two rows of tables immediately caught the smell and began to exchange glances, suspecting something was afoot. This was confirmed a few seconds later when he successfully extracted his imitation Zippo lighter from his skin tight spandex leggings.

Panic began to break out in the audience, unsure whether he was about to martyr himself or martyr by proxy the first two rows of tables. In a surge of civic pride, the Deputy Mayor sprinted to the back of the hall and frantically began to pull the village fire extinguisher off the wall, although by this point there was no need to extinguish anyone - a purple faced bass player was now coughing, choking and twitching in a worrying manner after inadvertently swallowing the first mouthful.

Fortunately medical attention (back slaps, much water drinking, cries of "don't puke") was close at hand, expertly administered to the ailing musician by those so close to immolation just one minute previously. So successful was the treatment that the bass player was allowed to stay for the evening providing no home-made slivolice (plum brandy) was drunk, for fear of provoking a catastrophic chemical reaction.

The Masquerade Ball continued with KISS (me) replaced by a six piece bluegrass band hastily summoned from a neighbouring village, that when all was said and done, provided a more appropriate style of music from the perspective of the relived residents.

As for the village, a few days later a new motion banning KISS (me) from village balls was put in place by the entertainment committee............ ......although maybe they should just look a little bit more closely at the small print in future.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Village networking

In 2011 it appears that most of the world communicates via e-mail, Facebook and twitter. Fortunately the village is blessed with a much faster form of social networking, otherwise known as Doctor Lang's waiting room, located in the Health Centre (1 doctor and 1 dentist, Monday and Wednesday mornings only) adjacent to the Village Hall. As Doctor Lang's catchment area covers the adjoining villages then the good people come from far and wide to interface. There is no better place to follow, be followed, tell your fans or simply update your current status. Many has been the time where Doctor Lang, casually drumming his fingers on the desk, has had to wait a good five minutes until his next patient has finished regaling the waiting room audience with tales of mushroom picking, the carp that got away, last nights Czech and Slovakia's Got Talent  and exactly why the neighbours christened their new goat "Susanna".

 No need for twitter when you have these - cutting edge technology in the village.

For the less technically minded, there is the village PA system, specifically designed to broadcast messages to residents from HQ, the Village Hall. More observant visitors to the village will have noticed the loudspeakers attached to every fifth lamppost on each street. This ensures that residents do not always need to venture out, particularly in winter, to see Doctor Lang in order to network and get the latest news. Like 24 hour news channels, the village PA system brings the news right into the village living rooms. The system even has an inventive "prepare the village for an announcement" button which when pressed creates an ear-splitting hissing and crackling for at least two minutes, giving residents time to open windows for better sound clarity, pour drinks and pull their chairs up in anticipation of the days announcement.

In order to remain at the forefront of cutting edge technology, the Village Hall has adapted the PA system into a village home entertainment centre. Thus, at Christmas, traditional carols are soothingly played in the afternoons and funeral dirges are played when announcing a death in the village. Polkas (that's "oom pa pa" music to the rest of us) are regularly played a couple of afternoons a week. Standard announcements are preceded by a specially commissioned introduction that to the untrained ear appears to be a reworking of the 80s classic "Jump" by American rockers Van Halen and played on an early 1980s Casio keyboard.

Announcements range from the typical - "no electricity tomorrow morning"- to the stunningly personal -"Can Mr. Zach please return his overdue library please". Social networking really comes to the fore when residents are immediately advised of any salesmen or tradesmen venturing into the village to hawk their goods. Good and bad reviews are soon retweeted on the system: "They're selling those cheap chickens outside the Village Hall again......pretty good value", "Forget about the knife sharpener................last time he was here mine were blunt again in a week". No need for Sky Plus either - all news is automatically repeated several times throughout the afternoon.

In a village where an apple is still a fruit and an ipod is just a typo, its reassuring to know that whatever the technology used, social networking still remains at the forefront of every day life.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Snow, snow and more snow

Its back again. After a three week break where it decided to take a few days off and deprive us of a true white Christmas this year. While most of the UK collectively tucks its head back under the duvet once the first snowflake hits, here in the village its time to dig.

The snow shovel is an essential part of village life, even apartment dwellers are not spared the onerous task of snow clearing duties, the rota usually posted on the communal notice board. The village also has the village snow plough, in this case, lovingly cared for by Mr Hermanek from the Village Hall. 

First of all, let me say that Mr Hermanek is a popular and genial resident of the village, that is until the snow plough comes into operation. As the village rush hour (it is rumoured amongst the village elders that in days gone by five cars once went past the Church one after the other) is between 6.00 and 7.00 a.m then Mr Hermanek springs into action early, usually around 5.00 to 5.30 a.m. You can hear the roar (more of a chesty cough really) of the tractor, as with snow plough attached he studiously prowls the village sweeping snow from side to side, so the good residents can go about their daily tasks. 

And therein lies the problem...............

You see, the snow has to go somewhere and usually it is straight back down the path or the drive that has just been cleared. Early morning peace and quiet is often shattered by numerous insults (and the odd snowball) hurled in the direction of the departing Mr Hermanek, sat high in his tractor, as yet another frustrated resident hurls their snow shovel into the ground at the sight of their efforts going to waste. Of course, the residents could wait until after Mr Hermanek has been and gone but there have been days when, for one reason or another no snowplough has materialised. The excuse of "Sorry I am late/not coming to work because Mr Hermanek and his snow plough didn't turn up" would only meet with derision from Czech employers (and colleagues) in a land where only the truly dumb do not have winter tyres.

And what of Mr Hermanek? The device attached to the tractor usually determines his facial expression. No snow plough usually means a pleasant smile, a nod of the head and a wave. A snow plough attached results in a steely expression, reminiscent of the one that Bruce Willis has when driving a blazing tanker through a police blockade, ignoring all insults as he pushes the snow straight back down an unsuspecting residents driveway.

Mission accomplished, Mr Hermanek.