Czechoslovakia 1991

Preamble.

First let me say that I did not want to go to Czechoslovakia.  I had nothing against the people.  The academics who came to England were magnificent ambassadors but I had preconceived ideas that the whole country would be in the dark ages and was bound to be dull and miserable.

I admit to more than slight trepidation as the day came closer.  All the staff, including myself, were producing work for a number of levels, we just had no idea where to pitch it. Academically we had no worries, the abilities of the Czechoslovak people were not an issue but we were extremely apprehensive regarding the level of English. Tapes were bought to help with conversational Czech.  However, there was no way that these would be of much benefit for lectures.

My wife did her usual trick of having everything in the appropriate case complete with list of contents two days before the flight.  I was horrified, I knew that what she had got into the case without stress or crease would not under any circumstances go back after I had them out and worn them, yet they would be the same clothes, perhaps with one or two, but not many, added creases.   I take this opportunity to pay public homage to my wife who helped and encouraged me especially when I was working well in to the early hours to produce the goods (I must add that I was no different to the rest of my colleagues in this respect, the success of any project of this nature depends on the commitment of the organiser and the participants, we had a brilliant team!)

The morning of the flight was fabulous, I made a mental note of how green the trees and other vegetation were so that I could compare it in Czechoslovakia.  The flight was tedious like all others and our arrival in Prague airport was even more tedious as the queues formed.  Dave had been doing a bit of market research on the aeroplane, testing the brandy for gulpability and the degree of flexibility of the mouth that one was left with, in Dave’s case it was more effective than a gallon of WD40.  Some Germans were highly impressed with his knowledge of walky talkies and the radiation emissions into the human brain. Trevor was so impressed that I had to support him whilst he dried his eyes and caught his breath.

A particularly burly German had the temerity to push by us and jump the queue, Dave had to be tranquillised, If we had taken his blood pressure at that point it would have damaged the gauge!  Fortunately the audacity of the gentleman had caused Dave to have a seizure, his face swelled up to the size of a prize pumpkin on trick or treat night and he was now making a passable imitation of a gargoyle on a very rainy day, if he had not been spluttering so much I do believe the pair of them may have been responsible for a particularly nasty international incident.

Customs would not have won any prizes in the smile of the year competition but once we got within eyeshot of them we seemed to make more progress or it may have been because I had been to the toilet by now so the wait was rather more comfortable and Dave was now impressing everyone with his amazing grasp of world politics including the situation in Yugoslavia, how to partition a country and what to do with surplus Slovaks.

Prague.

I had spoken to a number of people who had been to Prague and also taken the trouble to read one or two travel books but nothing can prepare an individual with even the tiniest grain of appreciation of beauty for the sheer ambience, vibrance and character of Prague.  Clive James would have said he was intoxicated with the charm, I wish I had got to the adjective first, it would have saved having to get intoxicated on the local brew. Trevor was good to be with, I was a little apprehensive that we would not get on but it turned out that we were both enkoy the odd orange juice so it was OK.

I love music and it was the Prague music festival.  Every street corner had jazz bands of varying degrees of ability.  Special stages had been set up in all the squares for pop and rock groups, classical musicians and singers had chosen all the best acoustically acceptable places and the churches had been commandeered for recitals of all kinds, we took in a brass and organ recital that was magnificent.  At each street corner the statement was put, even if only mentally, “This could not get better”, and each time it did.  In the first afternoon and evening we covered the equivalent of a circumnavigation of the world, we had only been here 7 hours and I was mesmerised.  The day was rounded off in magnificent style with a quiet bottle of the equivalent of champagne sitting on the river bank watching the sun casting a hypnotic glow across the city and illuminating the church and castle in a wonderful pool of soft light.

On the way back to the hotel we were fortunate enough to experience the entire repertoire of one of the finest violinists either of us had ever heard.  I took the opportunity to record it on camcorder, we agreed that this would be one the most significant events of the entire stay.

The exhibition, we were here for a job, was worthwhile.  We spoke to a number of college conglomerates from Britain and elsewhere.  The exhibition was well attended and was definitely worth the excursion.

The Beer and an Energetic Lady.

We decided that perhaps it was time to have an evening meal and test the quality of the beer, purely as a cultural awareness raising exercise.  Trevor had already been in an area of the City that he felt showed some promise.  He had been checking out the accommodation that had been booked on his behalf for when Kath and Little George, his wonderful wife and son visited the following week.  He had spent a couple of hours walking to the above hotel so he was well aware of the buildings and facilities that were on offer in that area. When he re‑appeared at our designated meeting point at  the three o’clock prearranged time. I had been resting my eyes lying on a strip of grass near the beautiful St. Nicholas’ Church. The noise of my snoring had drowned the trumpeters who were busy announcing the arrival of Trevor with an American who had volunteered to escort him back to the Old Town where I had been impersonating a dromedary with Firey Jack on it’s left testicle.  I had discovered Czech beer!

The young lady in question was both very pretty and more than a little forward.  Trevor had been offered a  good time although until I interpreted some of the phrases that the young lady had used Trevor had been bathing in naivety and had clearly missed the chance of a lifetime.

The Concerts.

At one of the concerts in Wensceslas Square we had settled down to taping a guy who looked the spit of Joe Cocker, he turned out to be the leader of one of the forty odd political parties currently fighting their first free general election for many years, when an old girl danced in to view.  My first reaction was to feel sorry for her and I know Trevor had similar thoughts, then I started to look around for some kind of reaction on the faces of the Czechs and tourists.  There was no unpleasantness, no piss taking or pointing fingers and the only smiles were ones of kind, understanding benevolence.  Clearly the lift did not go to the top floor but all the lights were on even if there was no one in.  She danced around for a while by herself then she approached a young man who did not immediately want to get up and the situation became close to embarrassing.  Suddenly someone else stood up and before we knew it there was a number of couples dancing, all of them without self consciousness and I suddenly realised that rather than squirming with embarrassment, as I have in similar situations in the past, I was filled with pleasure and took time to enjoy the feeling that was generated by the scene.

The Language.

Later we were in a particularly good pub and  decided that drinking on an empty stomach was not a good thing so Trevor would ask, in his best Czech, for a meal.  I had already looked up the appropriate words in my trusty phrase book and was relieved that Trevor intended to be the hero.  I tried to look and sound reluctant saying that I didn’t mind if he wanted me to. Fortunately he did mind and insisted on having the book.  I made a big show of not wanting to give him it and then gave in.  After double checking the page that I had offered him he panicked.  The waiter was here by now and he looked around for a means of escape, there wasn’t one.  I sat back with a self satisfied grin on my face, the sort of grin that comes from knowing that there was at least 25 consonants in the phrase and no vowels. Trevor leaned across the table and in an elaborate stage whisper gasped, “I can’t say this, it’s a fucking anagram!”

On to Ostrava.

The flight was in a Russian TU something or other that did for clouds what Morris 1000’s did for the centre white line, it looked out for them, headed towards them, then stuck to them. Trevor rattled off another Gruniad crossword whilst Dave and I sat white knuckled and wishing we were on something less exciting like Space Mountain! The weather did not look too promising and the descent to the airport was like going over a hump back bridge forever. On the ground at last and Dave gave a passable imitation of the Pope by kissing the tarmac and sobbing quietly into my shoulder.  We had landed and were quite pleased.

Our hosts were waiting and quickly picked up the luggage. Trevor was doing his film star bit and was hugging everyone including a huge guy that looked like the bear from Grizzly Adams, I don’t think he was ready for such western emotion, but he didn’t complain.

We split into two groups, Trevor with the girls and we went with Paddington.

The journey into Ostrava was through open countryside and even though the weather was cloudy the beauty of it was apparent.  I was struck by something but was not immediately able to identify what it was.  After several short conversations we lapsed into silence and watched the countryside go by and the town move closer.  The roads were variable to poor and there were not many vehicles on them, it was rather like early morning on a Sunday when most normal people would be making love.  The penny dropped; all of the trees were broad leafed and deciduous.  Many were beautiful oaks.  I had never seen so many oaks in my life.  I remembered from school Tommy Hebron, our English teacher, telling us that we cut down our oaks to make ships to go off conquering any nation that would put to sea and most of those that didn’t.

The words of Dancing at Whitsun suddenly made sense. As the young lady sings of the destruction of so many young men she cries “They have gone where the forests of oak trees before, They have gone to be wasted in battle”, it’s amazing what you  think about when you’re in an old but very comfortable limousine being driven through beautiful countryside by a bear.

Our Hosts.

Our hosts had thought of everything, from food through to crockery and utensils.  The halls of residence were separated from the main university block by a distance of between half and one kilometre depending on which block your room was in.  Ours was in the furthest away which had both advantages and disadvantages, we were next to the open countryside and near some excellent walks in the woods.  We were away from the noisier blocks but we did have quite a trek each morning but even this had its advantages, the walk to the main block was passed some of the most beautiful girls in the world.  The Czechs seemed to take them for granted. I suppose you do if that is all that you are familiar with.

The Work.

The main teaching block was a reasonable walk from the halls of residence and there were two  alternative routes to get there one was passed the pretty girls brightening the life of all who took that route.

One bright and sunny morning we decided to take one of the walkways through the forest.

The sun had been shining for two hours and it was still only 7.45. I had a day of fighting the fileserver, it had an intermittent fault and they are a real pain to diagnose, Dave and Trevor had a day of lectures but we all decided to walk to the main block through the forest.  The paths were well worn and easy to follow but there was a stream that meandered through the trees and babbled away in to the fields in the distance.  There is a bridge, well almost, which had been quite substantial in an earlier life but that had been when Eric the Viking had been in short pants.  It now consisted of one piece of rotting wood which Dave was about to cross.  I have to give 9 out of 10 for determination and had it not been for me pointing a camcorder at him I’m sure he would have persevered and I’m equally sure he would have got wet. Well that’s what we were hoping.  There was a woodpecker in the distance impersonating Buddy Rich and the sun was casting shafts of light through the trees like the ones you see on artists impressions of early morning in a forest, I wondered where anyone could see this effect, now I knew.

The Nerves.

There was a degree of apprehension before our first lectures and the nervousness became more apparent as we all made little quips that were laughed at in a silly little girl way.  The periods were nicely spaced over the two weeks and would have given us ample time to adjust the pace etc. as we gauged the levels of English and the learning speeds.  There would have also been ample time to explore the area.  However, the fileserver developed an intermittent fault.  These are the worst to deal with.  All the time that I was there it behaved itself perfectly, the moment I went for a meal or even the toilet, it died.  The lectures had to be put back a couple of days whilst I dealt with this and I shall always be grateful to Walter who allowed me to set up temporary systems that worked although I did have to act as technician for his sessions.  There was a lot of crossing of fingers and toes during Dave and my own sessions.  From time to time I felt a little cheated that I was having to do this extra work and it’s only in retrospect that I realise what a lucky and privileged person that I am to have been able to share that time with both my English and Czech friends.  I must confess to feeling more than a little ashamed of the self pity I allowed myself to feel, although in my own defence I don’t believe that I showed it.  I don’t think that there was any lost periods due to the difficulties and towards the end of the stay I managed to get Premsyl Tichy to link the whole system into the University network.  This man is worth his weight in gold!

The Stay.

You may remember my reference to the greatest violinist we had ever heard, a true maestro, playing his heart out in a small corridor off the main square in the Old Town in Prague.  OK, we had imbibed a little of the local brew and perhaps were a trifle giggly, our minds and more significantly our ears, easily pleased.

We had got an excellent reputation for hard work and an equally good one for the quality of our company during those long evenings when we thought of home and missed our wives. In essence we worked hard and played hard.  Our Belgium friends had cottoned on to this and at the beginning of each day came to my room to find out where we intended to go at the end of the day.  On the evening of this particular day we were to avail the centre of Ostrava with our presence, eat a superb meal and get in to some very heavy wife missing, then, when we returned to our rooms, we would impress all of our unsuspecting guests with an hour of our rivetingly interesting escapades in the Glorious Capital on video.

The plan was for the Belgians to go to Prague that weekend and we had already softened them up with a number of anecdotes that showed what fine, witty and intellectually sound chaps we were when we had consumed a modicum of the local liver juice.

For some reason the evening got off on the wrong foot, we were waiting for someone to come back from conversing with the love of his life who was well behind his promised return time so I was asked to put on the cassette that contained the impromptu violin and guitar duet that was so memorable.

The first part of the video portrayed Prague as a beautiful unspoilt and historic place, all of the things that I hoped it would.  Then came the best part where the two musicians mesmerised us with their virtuosity. The violin had been transformed in to a wailing banshee but the worst and most embarrassing was yet to come.  Whilst reeling around with the camera, which is a very good one that can record a picture with the light from only two candles, I had inadvertently focused on an area that was bathed in the light from a street lamp.  Someone had lit a cigarette behind the pillar and the smoke was drifting into the light rays giving an effect that is usually seen on stage when the Super Trooper (the main spotlight) follows the leading lady around the stage.  This was not the scene that had been set here.  I was mortified, Trevor had rolled his trouser legs up and was doing high kicks bathed in this spotlight and horror of horrors, he was farting the Hallelujah Chorus in perfect harmony with the strangled cat.

The Mountains.

A weekend in the mountains.  George Duda had arranged for Trevor, Dave and company to borrow some bicycles.  I was trying to reconfigure the file server so Dave Rose and I would be following later with George’s wife, Alice.

At the pre‑arranged time there was knock at the door and when I opened it there was a vision of beauty, very trim in shorts and T shirt and the most endearing smile I’ve ever seen.  She had a badly filled tooth that showed when she smiled, a good dentist could have made it all but invisible but even this slight imperfection seemed to make her even more attractive. “I’m Aleecha” she said, “But you must call me Alice”.  I couldn’t have called her anything at that moment, I was looking for some witty comment but couldn’t find one. She skipped in, I later realised that she skipped everywhere.  I gave Rosy a hand to get his eyeballs back, picked up our weekend clothes, not too heavy, the forecast was good.

All of her good qualities had been used up on her body and personality because her driving was lethal.  Her foot was on the accelerator (to the floorboards) or on the brake, also on the floor boards.

The glasses that she wore were obviously being broken in for someone else, when she had them on the limited number of vehicle on the road were pulled out in front of without a second thought.

On arrival at the chalet, a wooden affair which was basic but more than acceptable, we made enquiries as to the progress of our colleagues. They still had not arrived and to say that Alice was getting concerned was an understatement.  We took a short walk along the road, returned and sat around wondering where they could be.  Eventually we decided to go back along the road to see if we could find them.  After a considerable time and just as we were starting to think the worst we spotted their bikes outside a pub.  Out came George complete with the sort of smile that suggested this had not been the only pub that they had visited on the way.  Alice told him that they would have to have a conference later!

A party had been planned for the Friday evening and a number of the lecturers and research assistants came along.  Standa looked a little uncomfortable and it turned out that he had been to a wedding the previous weekend and  had not seen his wife for several days so he was debating with himself the pros and cons of going home to see if she wanted to come to the party.  Eventually he built up the courage to face her and was back within 30 minutes, wife and child in tow.

The Sporting Girl.

Vladimir had arrived by now with new girlfriend, classic Russian beauty, high cheek bones and hair tied back.  In Britain we would have said she was lively, indeed Vladimir had to take her upstairs four times throughout the evening for servicing!

The Big Sleep.

I’ve got to admit that I began to feel a little sleepy by 2.00 am and commenced my weary trail to bed.  The stairs were covered with a carpet that may not have been threadbare but it was thin.  It was held in place by stair rods and the wood that remained exposed had been painted nicotine.  The top step was reached with only the minimum of pain from having my fingers stood on and I reached the room well within the hour.  Trevor and company were real men, they stayed at it until 4.00.

 

The Hangover.

When I awoke I had no idea of the quality of the hangover I was about to experience.  The sky was blue and it was obviously warm already.  I had a date with a Czech breakfast and although dry in the mouth and a little slow in the cerabal area I was hungry.

The plan for the day was to walk up the mountain to a chalet type restaurant and although feeling slightly fragile I was looking forward to it.  We walked to a small reservoir as a practice whilst we waited for the others to surface.  On the way we passed a pipe sticking out of the hillside that had beautiful clear spring water flowing from it, at Georges behest we all took a drink from it.  On arrival back at the hotel everyone had made an appearance in body, there was a number of very poorly individuals, they made me feel better at a stroke. Good-byes were said to Trevor who was going back to Prague to meet his wife and Little George, and we set off.

The route was across a bridge spanning a fast and cold mountain stream and through the village passed a variety of different lilac bushes the scent was thick enough to taste and so memorable I can smell it now, it was good to be there on a day like that day with weather that had been made to order and excellent company.  On the outskirts of the village the climb began, through a field of daisies, buttercups and clover.  At the top of the field the forest began and we could look back at the hotel and village, I half expected Heidi to wander across the field with a few goats.  On the other side of the strip of forest that separated the real climb from what we had just done the track started to get serious.  I could actually feel each beat of my heart in my temples and I knew at that point that this hangover was to be memorable.  As we progressed our way up the mountain the shakes started then the tightening of the temples.  It crossed my clouded mind that if I collapsed, how would they get me down then I decided that if I really did collapse, and it was looking increasingly likely, I would not care.  My only recollections from that morning were of an ant hill, DJ’s and DR’s fitness and that beautiful meadow at the bottom of the climb.  When we eventually reached the top a meal was arranged.

 

The Meal.

Under normal circumstances I would have eaten the deep fried soft cheese with greasy chips and really enjoyed it but today was not the day.  I managed a few chips and sank the orange juice in one go.  George recognised that all was not well and ordered another.  I took this one outside to try to control the dryness in my mouth, the pounding in my head, the twitching nerves in my stomach and the uncontrollable urge to throw up.  I lay down on a piece of grass that had a lump that fitted in the small of my back and was so comfortable I closed my eyes to kill the pounding in my head.  I could hear some noises in the distance they consisted of laughter and a sound that would have done justice to the pained cries of a bull moose with its genitals snapped in a gin trap, or the sound of me snoring; since there were no moose in the area I was forced to favour the latter and the laughter was my friends and colleagues having fun at my expense.  As I slowly regained consciousness I remembered that I was in the middle of a memorable hangover and winced to reflect its seriousness, then I realised that my headache was down to shattering and reducing at every heartbeat and my stomach felt normal (ish).  I was going to live.  I later realised that it was a nasty hangover but I had compounded it by not drinking enough liquid in the morning and what I had experienced was more through dehydration, probably brought on by the alcohol.  The descent was wonderful, the headache was gone and the scenery, smell and the company mesmeric. We would walk a few yards then either of the two Georges would relate some folktale or point out an interesting feature.  The woods had a smell of their own and we would occasionally pass a woodcutter using cart horses to pull out the trunks of the trees that had been felled.  Under normal circumstances it would have upset me to see this activity but the forests are so well managed, two trees planted for one cut down that it was at least acceptable and at best a very rustic olde worlde sight that has long since disappeared from England. At the bottom of the hill there was the same avenue of lilacs only now the scent was even stronger.  A local farmer whom we had met the evening before, was it only 18 hours ago, was trotting towards us with his horse and cart.  He had no English but we managed to communicate our appreciation of those lilacs, it took a long time because I think he just took them for granted, to him they are there every year and always smell beautiful.

The Scenery.

George Duda and his lovely wife Alice were there to see us back.  I almost wished I could have my hangover back so that the sight of her would cure it.  She smiled her enigmatic smile and the sun appeared from behind a cloud; this was no coincidence!  She was wearing shorts again, they would have needed a government health warning in Britain but the Czechs take very beautiful women for granted, there are so many of them.  That evening was spent drinking rather less of the local brew and the following day I woke up with rather more brain cells in action.

The Countryside.

George Klieber was taking us to see the Radegas statue, a walk of approximately 10 miles including a ride on the ski lift.  There was no snow in the mountains even though we were only just into the spring.  The sun was shining brightly as we set off towards the ski lift, it would take thirty to forty minutes and George was going to take us to see his country house that was on the way.

The journey took us through more beautiful countryside to a view point at about one thousand feet.  We stopped so that we could take a few photographs and run some video.  The vista was stunning; in the distance, there were the hills that I had enjoyed my hangover on yesterday and working towards the point on which we were now standing there was rolling countryside complete with broadleaf trees which were my first observation on the way into Ostrava.

 

The Cottage.

The country house had been built by himself and looked like a Swiss Chalet that you see on the side of biscuit tins.  His wife was a little surprised but undeterred by the sudden arrival of complete strangers; George must make this a regular occurrence.  She made us coffee that was scalded in an earthenware jug. The pouring process was critical to avoiding gritty pieces of coffee floating around in the cup and George’s wife was an expert.  She also produced some lethal plum brandy; at 80 degrees proof it certainly warmed the inner-soul.  I allowed the tiniest drop to touch my lips just to prove to myself that it was worth avoiding; it was!  Dave with his cast iron stomach was a real hero, he managed to drink some of it before adding something to reduce its potency.

We walked around the garden admiring things like an old radiator that had been arranged to catch the sun’s rays. When we chased the piping along its length it became obvious that it was a make shift heat exchanger so that one could have a warm shower during the hot summer months.  The gardens had been well designed and had numerous perennial plants that were obviously much easier to deal with when sometimes two or three weeks, longer in the winter months, would elapse between visits.  Across the road an unfenced field had just been cut and the results rolled into huge bobbins of hay, the smell reminded me of my days repairing grass cutters, I could always tell when I was getting close to the machine by the aroma of new mown hay.  I stood in the field for several minutes to run some video on this remarkable scene and enjoyed the smell created by the cocktail of newly cut grass and the lilac.  This time I could not see the lilac but it was certainly making its presence known.

We stayed for another 30 minutes then climbed back into George’s old car and made our way towards the ski lift.  We had all the windows open and the breeze was more than welcome.  George was describing the scenery in the winter time, it was then that I noticed his habit of ending all of his sentences with the word “Really” as if he was agreeing with himself.

The Statue – Radegast.

We arrived at the ski-lift just in time to catch one of its runs.  The lifts do not run all the time during the summer months so it’s a case of arriving just before the hour or put up with up to a fifty-minute wait.  The ride to the top took about ten minutes and followed the contours of the land.  At the top it was a case of jumping off whilst the machine kept moving, quite an easy thing to do if you are an habitual ski-lift user otherwise you jump off and keep your head low or the bar that has kept you safe all the way up now turns in to a shillelagh and whacks you on the back of the head as you disembark.

We all survived and made our way to some cabins that sold photographic film. Looking around I could see a number of wooden buildings that looked fine at a distance but failed closer inspection, they were about a hundred years old and had a slight Turkish influence in their design.

More photographs were taken then we struck out for Radegast, the statue of some god who got a lot of good press many years ago, this was about three miles away along easily negotiated tracks.  The air was clear and good to breathe and the views whilst not on a par with yesterday were spectacular.  We followed a well-worn path that took us through some brush areas where couples could hide and do their courting in a sort of privacy that was quite sufficient for what they were up to (I think!!)  Every fifty or sixty metres there were breaks in the brush where the panorama could be appreciated.  We were never hurried, there was no necessity, the Czech way to relax is to do as much as is necessary today and tomorrow will take care of the rest.

On the way back it was decided that we would avail ourselves of the restaurant.  There were several to choose from, indeed one of them looked very modern and George informed us that it was also expensive. built to take advantage of the Germans!  The one that we decided upon was traditional, external construction was of wood,  once inside it looked fairly modern.  We had just managed to get seated when a group of elderly Dutch people came in.  The meal was excellent and we all decided to have some wine which was poured through a long hose and regulated by the waiter putting his finger over the end, I hope he had washed his hand!  Suddenly there was music, played for us by traditionally dressed Czech group.  The men played guitar and concertina and the young girl, who looked very young, played violin.  I recorded some video of it and was captured by the girl’s smile, the most enigmatic I have ever seen.  George sang along to the music and Dave got up to dance with one of the Dutch women much to the amusement of the rest of the group.

 

The Soup.

Trevor had gone for a meal one evening, just for a change.  Vladka and one or two others had accompanied him for company and to talk him through the menu.  Trevor had made his mind up regarding the order, all that was necessary now was to ascertain what it was that he had ordered.  Vladka dutifully told him that it was excellent hen soup, Trevor retorted that it was chicken soup and so began a verbal battle of Vladka’s literal translation and Trevor trying to tell her that in Britain it was referred to as chicken not hen soup.  Vladka was adamant and in an exasperated final outburst that this is an unequivocal fact asserted that it was:-

“Hen Soup; not a chicken but a beeeg hen”  and gestured with her arms to indicate the size.

The Return.

On the final evening of my stay, we decided to indulge ourselves at another restaurant, our wonderful Czech friends and the Belgians were to come too.  It was an excellent turnout and even included Vladka, very business-like, and Alice complete with smile and body.

We drank a number of superb Czech beers and made out way to the restaurant.  We were greeted with a fabulous folk band that played the most exciting and sometimes the saddest music I have ever experienced.  The food was superb and towards the end of the evening, we began to disperse.  I was coming down at a tremendous rate and found it difficult to say anything to our hosts.  Vladka stepped forward took both of my hands and kissed me.  It was the first time that she had shown any affection at all and I was dumbfounded.  I said my goodbyes to all of the others and jumped in the car that was to take me back to the hall of residence.  I then had the strangest experience ever.

The Strange Experience.

Instead of taking me directly to the University we cruised around the town and talked about politics.  The weather was slightly wet and I had visions of the secret police and being taken to an unidentifiable, grey building for interrogation.  My compatriots wore leather jackets and looked like subversives.  Through my slightly foggy mind I felt excited, would I be featured in some kind of international incident.  I love talking politics and respond in the direction that will give me the best argument, in consequence, I must admit to being more than slightly controversial.  It turned out that I was not locked up and I was eventually delivered to the University halls of residence where I looked forward to three hours sleep before rising to leave for home.

The Departure.

I am usually good at getting up but this morning was difficult, the bed dragged and my eyes refused to stay open.  I went to the sinks and splashed cold water on my face working on the principle that this is what film stars do and they are instantaneously awake; all it did for me was make me more awake so that could feel even more dreadful than I did when I was half asleep.  Walter, the Belgian was going home too so I went down the corridor to make sure that he had risen; he had.  All our luggage was taken down to the foyer and left in front of the cubicle where the chaperone was housed.  The sun was making an appearance and when I saw Peter had come along to see us off I began to feel sad.  When I feel sad and I feel that I am about to make a real pratt of myself I do things, anything to keep busy and when there is nothing to do you look a bigger pratt for doing it.   Our farewells were only tempered with the fact that Peter would be coming back to Britain, he had fallen in love with a girl from Middlesbrough and there was no doubts about when he was to return.

Back to Prague.

The return flight was nothing like the flight in, we traveled in a fairly new turboprop and the weather was good.  I think I would have preferred poor weather so that the sadness would not be so intense.  Back to Prague and it turned out to be a German bank holiday, the place was full.  Buy a few presents and return to the airport.  We decided to go straight through into the departure lounge.  Walter was to leave after me but my aeroplane had been held up in America three days earlier and was still making up time.  I did not realise how much I liked Walter until I saw him disappear through the door to the flights, I was alone and quite depressed.

The BA flight eventually made an appearance and off I went.  By now I was looking forward to seeing my family, in fact I was missing them so much that it could never be quantified.

Back in Blighty.

Both the flight to London and the flight to Teesside were in perfect weather and I began to get excited as we descended to our own little airport at home.  The oilseed rape fields were still in full bloom and my first site of the Tees was a real welcome.  It had been more than a visit, not a holiday but close to it, not intense work but nerve-racking in the beginning, it had been an adventure with people that were special.  The aeroplane took a long time to taxi to its position, perhaps the pilot did not know that I was desperate to see my family.  Perhaps the whole thing had been a dream and now I was going to wake up, have breakfast and go to work.

Pick up the presents and go through into the baggage collection lounge.

And then I was Home.

I saw Linda then Thomas, Vicky and Emma, hugged them; then I cried!

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