Thursday, 31 October 2013

New Book

I am planning a new novel, set in Prague, and drawing on my experience as an ex-pat. It will be a psychological paranormal mystery, so totally appropriate for Prague, that home of the esoteric, the Golem, alchemy and Jungian theory.

I am very excited by it. Having published five ebooks now, I reckon I can do something unexpected with the medium. This blog will play an important part in that, I hope.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Autumn Crocus in Czech Paradise

On our September visit to Czech Paradise (Cesky Raj) my husband and I visited Frýdštejn rock castle near Malá Skála. The road to the castle was being dug up, so parked our car and started to walk. Suddenly in front of us was a field covered with hundreds of purple flowers. I climbed over the gate and took some photographs. Here's the best of them.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Going into hospital in the Czech Republic

I had sometimes wondered what the healthcare would be like in my adopted homeland. Would it be as good as the NHS in the UK? As an EU citizen I carry a health insurance card which means that the British Government picks up the tab for emergency healthcare I receive in the Czech Republic, but how easy would it be and would there be lots of extra costs?

In April I was taken badly ill in the Czech Republic with what turned out to be a strangulated umbilical hernia blocking my gut. A friend dialled 112 for an ambulance, which arrived promptly and, watched by concerned neighbours, I was whisked off to Cesky Krumlov hospital. There I was seen immediately by a consultant in A&E, who ordered several tests - CT scan, xrays and the like, again these happened immediately. Within three hours I was being prepped for surgery.

In total I spent twenty-one days in Cesky Krumlov hospital, eleven in the intensive care ward and ten on a general surgery ward, and not once did I find anything that I would complain about. Whilst the hospital is obviously an old one from the communist era and so was not the highest spec, it was spotlessly clean and functional and the medical equipment was modern. My concerns about the Health card proved unfounded. I simply had to show the card and my passport to the ambulance man and the hospital administrator on arrival.

I was struck by the levels of care shown to me and other patients, especially on the intensive care ward. Staffing levels per patient are higher than those in the UK and so the nurses weren't running around the way they do in Britain and had time to care for you. On one occasion, when I was in pain and distressed, a nurse sat with me and stroked my face. It's hard to imagine British nurses having the time to do that.

The Czech nurses seemed to have been trained to speak softly, but authoritatively to the patients, which I found extremely calming, even though most of the nurses did not speak English and what Czech I could speak and understand disappeared in a cloud of pain and pain relief drugs. But then the language problem didn't seem to matter - care doesn't need translation. After a few days a sister discovered she could use Google Translate on her phone and so soon we were communicating with ease. Most of the doctors did speak at least some English and the consultant spoke it well. The one Czech phrase you need to know is "Boli me..." which means "I have pain...", then finish the phrase with pointing at the place that it is hurting.

As I said to my husband the place felt like a British hospital used to, before the administrators started walking round with clipboards and stopwatches, when patient care came first ahead of cost-cutting. This sense that I had slipped back to my childhood, when I had several stays in hospital, was reinforced when one of the nurses brought in a small radio tuned to a programme that played English-language pop music from the 1960's. The first time this happened I was so out of it, that the music merged into my hallucinations, but the second time I was amused to find myself to Billy J Kramer's song "Little Children", which I had loved as a child, and grateful to the nurse for thinking of me lying in my bed surrounded by the Czech language.

Breakfast was bread rolls with jam and fruit and sometimes cake, supper was similarly simple and monotonous: soup, bread rolls with cheese or pate. But lunch was usually superb. It was cooked on-site and consisted of a soup, and main course of typical Czech food, such as goulash, svickova, beef in pepper sauce. In the general surgery ward we ate together in a dining room, which allowed me to chat to fellow patients. I paid a grand total of 100 crowns (£3.30) a day for board and lodging. I could easily pay twice that for a lunch of a similar standard in a restaurant.

Thanks to the staff of Cesky Krumlov hospital I am now fully recovered and feeling better than I have done for years. I am now totally confident of Czech healthcare, so much so that I think I was probably lucky to be taken ill in the Czech Republic rather than the UK.  

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Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Cesky Krumlov Floods 2013

Did they say the flood reduction works would stop a once in a century sized flood?  This argument was used to justify the destruction of Cesky Krumlov's historic riverside and island, the grubbing out of a channel creating a speeding river where once had been a slow one, and the replacement of soft river banks with man-made concrete and granite walls. Well on Sunday the reduction works experienced their first test and failed.

In 2002 Cesky Krumlov and Prague suffered devastating floods as waters released from Lake Lipno rushed up the Vltava. This time the cause was different - we have had unseasonably wet weather last month which meant the ground was saturated when on Saturday the heavens opened for a massive downpour which lasted over 36 hours.

The water having nowhere to go ran off the fields into the streams turning them into torrrents and from there the waters poured downhill into the waiting River Vltava.
Residents in Cesky Krumlov's riverside properties were woken around midnight to sirens and the warning that the flood was on its way. The floods not only hit the area along the Vltava, but also along the little rivers and streams. As we drove into Cesky Krumlov the following morning along the Chvalsinska Road, we could see that a small stream had turned into a monster and swept across the road, flooding properties and car parks. A white car lay crushed against a fence. 

By the time we arrived in Krumlov historic centre the flood levels had already dropped 1.5 metres, but the sight was still impressive. We went to Laibon Restaurant on Parkan, which was open despite having been under 10 cms water earlier that morning. Life goes on, as it has done after countless floods over the centuries.

The truth is that no flood reduction work could ever be fully successful in Cesky Krumlov. Floods have been a way of life in this town and without raising the town by several metres they will remain so. The reduction measures have even had a disastrous consequence, which was foreseen by the former civic engineer Mr Pesek, namely the walls of the houses in Parkan are showing large cracks, due to the drying out of their foundations. Let's hope the Town Council doesn't see this as an opportunity to throw more money at failing to address the floods and so ruin this lovely town.

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Friday, 17 May 2013


I am sorry I have not been posting to this blog recently. I was rushed into Cesky Krumlov hospital in April and following emergency surgery am now recovering.

One good thing to come out of the incident is that when I do start blogging again, I will have lots to tell you about my treatment at the hands of the Czech health service.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Alchemy of Prague

Alchemy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just discovered that Prague has not one but two museums of alchemy. There used to be an alchemy museum in Kutna Hora run by an acquaintance of my friend Hannah, but that is now closed and I believe been replaced by a less erudite interpretation of  the alchemical arts. Hannah's dream of an alchemy museum in the Alchemist's house in Cesky Krumlov came to naught. I am not sure whether to visit the Prague museums or not, because they will inevitably not live up to the vision Hannah had. Maybe alchemy cannot be confined in a museum.

To my mind Prague is a place of alchemy. By which I mean it is a place where the soul is drawn away from the base and corruptible towards the spiritual. I cannot put my finger upon it, but my first impressions of the city remain true that one can sense angels weeping and rejoicing in this city. I admit it is harder with each visit to escape the intrusions into one's senses of the noise, smell and sights of Mammon: international fast-food chains, the glaring come-buy-me shop windows, the over-the-top advertising boards, and yet if I go down an old street at night, when the shutters are down, walk in the woods of Petrin or enter the stillness of a church and the alchemy begins to work.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Pin For A Butterfly - Czech film

It is almost two years now since the death of my friend, Hannah Kodicek. As regular readers of this blog will know Hannah was the reason I first came to this wonderful country and then to the area around South Bohemia.

Hannah was a screenwriter and film-maker. Her major work was Pin for a Butterfly - a magic realist film about the life of a young girl in communist Czechoslovakia, which she wrote and directed. The film starred Hugh Laurie, Imogen Stubbs, Alex Kingston and Joan Plowright. But the star is undoubtedly young Florence Hoath, who as the young Marushka steals the show. The film is now on Youtube and you can watch it here:

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Oldest Puppet Ever Discovered

I have just come back from the wonderful exhibition  Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind   
which is currently on at the British Museum. This once-in-a-lifetime exhibition brings together some of the finest paleolithic works of art, including some superb pieces from the Czech Republic. 

I already written a post about the first ceramic representation of the human figure - the Dolni Vestonice Venus. But the sculpture that attracted my son's attention was the first example of a puppet in the world. The Czechs love puppets and clearly this love goes back to the very beginnings of human habitation in their country. This marionette or stick puppet was discovered in the grave of a man in Brno in 1891 and it is thought to have belonged to a shaman. 

The British Museum captions states: 
The time and skill required to shape and articulate potentially movable limbs on an ivory figure make this a remarkable piece of craftsmanship.

Its spectral appearance and the shadows it could perhaps have made on the walls of a tent if suspended in firelight add a sense of theatre to the way it might have been seen 26,000 years ago.

One of the most remarkable theatrical experiences I have ever had was a production of Gilamesh by an Italian shadow puppet company called Gioca Vita. By moving the puppets between the light source and the screen the puppets grew and diminished on the screen. The impact was extraordinary even when I knew what was happening, it is hard to imagine the impact this puppet would have had on its original audience.

It doesn't surprise me that puppets date back so far. The animation of inanimate objects is something that is innate to human nature. It is something the Czechs understand very well. So if ever you find yourself watching a puppet performance in Prague, don't be surprised by how skilled the performers are, the people of this country have been practising for 26,000 years.

The exhibition is on until the 26th May.  
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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Masopust Re-post

A couple of years ago I put up this video I made of the Masopust celebrations in our local town, Horice Na Sumave. After celebrating in Horice they split up and visit the surrounding villages including ours. They dance and are rewarded with drinks, how they make it back to Horice is a miracle.

As Masopust has just past, I thought I'd share the video again, for those of you who missed it the first time.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Cesky Krumlov - Film Set

Cesky Krumlov is a favourite film location. We regularly have to skirt around film crews as we go about our daily life. 

Unlike the Hostel movies, the new Guinness advertisement (shown here) makes a wonderful advertisement for the timeless qualities of the town. Although an Irish stout doesn't seem suited to this country of Czech beer.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Jan Palach

Jan Palach memorial in Faculty of Arts, Prague

On Wednesday the Czechs recognized a new national day - Jan Palach Day. With it they remember the sacrifice of Jan Palach, who on 16th January 1969  set fire to himself in Wenceslas Square. Palach died of his injuries on 19th January. 

In an interview with Prague Radio Jaroslava Moserova, the burns expert who tended Jan Palach when he was admitted to hospital, Palach was keen to ensure that the true reason for his self immolation:
"It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, all the decent people who were on the verge of making compromises."

The outpouring of national grief at his funeral seemed to indicate that Jan Palach had succeeded at least for a time, however it was not to last at least not publicly. As communism tightened its grip on the country and set out to erase Palach's name from the nation's memory, few people were willing or able to openly defy the authorities. Palach's gravestone was removed from Olsany cemetery, but still people left candles and flowers. In 1973 the body was exhumed and cremated.  

Despite all the authorities' efforts Palach remained a symbol in people's hearts. In 1989 on the twentieth anniversary of his death a Jan Palach Week was called by a number of opposition groups including Charter 77. The series of demonstrations that followed between 15th and 20th January were suppressed, but can be said to be the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. Jan Palach's sacrifice at last was having the effect he desired. 
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Saturday, 12 January 2013

Kafka's Prague

English: 3:4 Portrait crop of Franz Kafka
English: 3:4 Portrait crop of Franz Kafka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The author Franz Kafka was born in Stare Mesto (The Old Town) in Prague, was educated there, lived and worked there. His grave, together with those of his parents, is in the New Jewish Cemetery. His world was almost entirely limited to a few square miles of the city.

Kafka wrote of his native city "this loving mother has claws; he who would liberate himself, would have to set her on fire at both Vysehrad", so the author had at best a love/hate relationship with town. Maybe one might say that it was precisely this sense of entrapment and alienation that informs his books. As a Jew in 19th century Prague he would not have felt accepted by the Germans, whose language he spoke and wrote in, nor by the Czechs, who were experiencing a resurgence sense of Slavic nationalism. Nevertheless when I read Metamorphosis for my magic realism blog   I was struck by how Czech Kafka's surreal dark humour seemed. 

Franz Kafka monument
Franz Kafka monument (Photo credit: John McNickname)
If you are visiting Prague and are interested in Kafka I suggest you visit the Franz Kafka Bookshop, near the Old Town Square, and buy yourself The Guide to Franz Kafka's Prague (only 20 kc), and take a walk through the old town to discover Kafka's Prague for yourself. Forty nine sites are identified, including Kafka's homes, schools and workplaces.  


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