Monday, 10 September 2007

Seashells in the Czech Republic

As you may recall in an earlier post as part of my decorations for our Czech house I brought over some seashells collected on a beach in Kent. I thought they would be very English objects for my Czech home, a bit of the seaside in landlocked central Europe. I very carefully washed them (so as not to smell) and placed them in a bowl of tap water on the windowsill, thus showing off their colours and patterns. There they sat for a few weeks; they sit there no longer.

The local man, who had first found the house for me two years ago, arrived one morning on my doorstep with his three children. I was pleased to see them and invited them in. Fruit tea and cola were offered and accepted and we settled down to an awkward silence. He is a man who never uses a sentence when one word will do, and often not that. My Czech was not able to sustain a one-sided conversation, and our attempts at broken German were equally short-lived.

The little lad made up for his father's silence with a running commentary in Czech on anything and everything. His father produced a small plastic toy which had come out of a chocolate egg - it was an octopus. We counted the legs - first in Czech and then in English. I had no toys to keep him occupied, but then I had a brainwave. I took the shell bowl from the window, drained off the water and showed the shells to the children. All three children including the teenage eldest daughter were totally caught up in looking at the shells. The different shells were looked at in detail, held up to the light, the razorshell became a false finger nail, the small empty crabshell scuttled again, and the shells were used to make pictures on the floor. Of particular note were the two fossilised shark's teeth, which had come from the same beach, and were suitably violent for a small boy's imagination. I suggested that the children could choose some to take away with them and a long process of selection took place. The older girls chose a few pretty shells, but the little boy found it impossible to stop - "To mam" he said over and over - "I have that".

They left clutching a bag of shells. It was fascinating to see how something that we Brits take for granted was so wonderful. These children will not have seen the sea, let alone walked on a beach collecting shells. So now the bowl is nearly empty and I will have to return to the seaside to replace its contents. There are more children in the village.


tripodyssey said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi Potok, lovely story!



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