Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It’s only taken 6 months but I now have 10 things I love about Prague:

1. There is a scandalous, scurrilous newspaper called Aha! http://www.ahaonline.cz/ , With exclamation mark naturally, surely a more suitable name for a tabloid than The Sun, or a better use of the exclamation point than Hello! The front page always makes me want to exclaim 'Aha!' If only I knew who those people were...

2. It can snow 40 cm over the weekend and the schools will still be open as usual on Monday morning (and the trams buses trains and metro will all be fully operational ) no leaves on the track nonsense here Association of Train Operating Companies, formerly known as British Rail.

3. There are flower shops everywhere. Rather like the plethora of pharmacies in France and Spain there seem to be an unfeasibly large amount of florists (some open 24 hours just like the pharmacies) here.  They are like little rays of sunshine in this city of permafrost.

4. People walk the streets with floor hockey sticks (I now speak knowledgably – I initially thought they were weird ice hockey sticks) gives a nice impression of vigour and violence to the inhabitants of Prague.

5. I can wear my long Canada Goose jacket everyday for months on end and my furry après ski boots which barely saw the light of day in Madrid.

6. You can use your travel card to take a ferry boat – my favourite is from the children’s island to the other side of the river (Line P4 Dětský ostrov - Národní divadlo-Hollar) . Important to note this is from April to October, as I just saw a part of the river yesterday that was completely frozen over.

7. People are very serious about sledging. There is a large hilly park on our door step with a Funicular Railway (I just love saying that) which makes it all the more civilized. I saw a very business like family on their way to the park on Sunday morning each carrying their own sledge, fully kitted out in serious ski-wear and all wearing goggles. This is in the middle of a city!
I love it – though the whole speed on the snow thing has not yet been by fully embraced by the whole family.

8. There is a real-live lamplighter – he looks straight out of Dickens with a top hat and long black cloak and he’s rather furtive.

9. The wonderful combination of superior building quality and triple glazed windows which means that even though it is going down to -20C tonight we only have the heating on level 2 (it goes up to 5), and I don’t have to wear thermal underwear in the apartment, this actually could be the best thing so far about Prague, except of course for Aha!

10. Obviously it is very, very beautiful and the beer is cheap, bountiful and capital!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Married A Dandy

Talking to M, after she had breakfast with the dandy:

“What did you talk about?”
“Well Papa asked if I thought his pyjamas were pretty and I said yes they were.”

Let’s look at the evidence so far:
A quick glance through the favourites folder is always a good clue as to where one’s interest lie, and this is just a small selection from the folder entitled ‘Wardrobe’ (exhibit ‘A’ right there)

Barbour - we live in Madrid (annual rainfall 440mm compared with Paris 642mm or London 593mm)
Derek Rose – Savile Row made pyjamas. (OK I understand the attraction of a bespoke suit from Savile Row but aren’t pyjamas taking it a little too far?)
Dandyism – speaks for itself
Hackett – again I must stress that we live in Madrid, not England nor the English countryside. Next he’ll be demanding marmalade on his toast and freshly ironed Le Monde. And here’s something I never knew, or would have guessed, that Hackett is in fact owned by a Spanish investment bank.
Marc Guyot – French Dandy
I don’t know what your definition of a sneaker is (please don’t say trainers it’s such an ugly word), but mine would be a shoe with canvas and a rubber sole –
1.    A sports shoe usually made of canvas and having soft rubber soles. Also called tennis shoe.
"sneaker." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 05 Feb. 2008. .

you know, like Converse, not an old fashioned slim fitting leather shoe.
I’m trying hard to imagine what kind of ‘sports’ you would be participating in wearing those ‘sneakers’ from Marc Guyot:

On his wish list; a Jiffy Steamer – I think he wants a personal one – we don’t have enough space for his shoe, jacket and coat collections – so where is he going to fit a garment steamer?

Though I have to admit we are living in the right city. The Madrileños (I am talking about the men) tend to dress like very well dressed Englishmen; not that Englishmen are necessarily well dressed you understand, but in the style of.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Peculiar Tale Of The Missing Cushion.

A long, long time ago when we lived in a very small apartment (28m2) with bright yellow walls, we needed some furniture. This was despite the FM insisting we get an unfurnished apartment as he had lots of furniture; we are still waiting for the aforementioned ‘lots of furniture’ 10 years later (1 single bed, 1 chest of drawers and 1 desk). Therefore we had to make a trip to the dreaded furniture store on the North Circular (you know the one I am talking about). I despised it then and despise it still. Each time I go back I vow it will be the absolute last time and here we are 4 country moves later and we are back again for the positively, absolutely, definitely the last time.
  • First of all it’s always somewhere you can only get to by car.
  • They use hypnotic lighting that turns you into some kind of zombie that must follow the arrows and go through the entire shop. Yes, I know there are short cuts but these are for people have been there before, you try finding the short cuts on your first visit, you can’t, you’ve been hypnotized.
  • Those convenient flat packed boxes always weigh a deceptively preposterous amount and are always missing something crucial. Yes, I know you can check your flat pack boxes before you leave but who really does that after spending 4 hours in the place. Once you see natural light again and the hypnosis has worn off, you just want to leave as quickly as possible.
  • So it’s never just one trip but several.
  • It never looks quick like it does in the pictures.
  • You need 2 people to put up most things and I am always doing this on my own - OK not exactly the big shops’ fault, but as I’m on a rant.

Anyway we had to buy a sofa.
I took the measurements precisely and I knew that although it was big, it would fit up the stairs. Sure enough the delivery guys tried to take it back as it wouldn’t fit. As this was a long, long time ago and I was living in a country where I could fluently speak the language, I insisted I had all the right measurements and it would fit up the stairs and under my careful direction we managed it. I can’t explain why this was me dealing with the delivery men even in those days. So we had our lovely big white (BWS) sofa in our small yellow-walled apartment on Portobello Road; yes just around the corner from the blue door. And it was great and big, far too big for the apartment but comfortable, so comfortable you could sleep on it and many visitors did.
This was in the days when the 'orribles (generic term to cover any French friends of the FM), used to visit London, just for the Indian food I think. So we had a nice weekend eating Indian food, during which the only drama I can remember was that one of the ‘orribles managed to set the toaster on fire and then calmly walk into the living room and announced that the toaster was on fire, without firts putting out the fire in the toaster. One of the ‘orribles slept on the BWS and the other one slept on the floor on the very comfortable cushions from the sofa. And so they left. We put everything back in its place and strangely one of the cushions on the BWS was missing. So we searched the entire apartment. This you understand did not take long as it consisted of a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom and a living room, so we are talking about 4 rooms distributed over 28 m2. No cushion. We went to bed. The next day the cushion was still missing so we looked again. As I already mentioned, this did not take long as all you had to do was stand in the doorway of each room and cast your eyes about; there were no built-in cupboards or wardrobes to be searched. The FM searched far more thoroughly than I, looking inside the oven, checking the bath (no built-in cupboards there either) and under the bed (you couldn’t get a pair of shoes under the bed let alone a cushion from the BWS), but he’s very thorough.
Then he started getting serious. I may not have already mentioned this but we actually had a large attic (20 m2) in the apartment that was reached only by a ladder (so I’m not sure just how he imagined the cushion had managed to get up there, but as I said he’s very thorough) that we used for storage. There were a lot of boxes with I don’t know what inside them, and a lot of boxes with wine in them and so just to be on the safe side, he went up the ladder with a powerful torch and opened all the boxes. Still no cushion. This went on for a few days of repeated searching and wondering out loud where the cushion might be.
Finally he had a feasible theory – the ‘orribles must have taken it.
I should first explain that the ‘orribles had only come for a weekend and had come with Samsonite wheelie cabin bags. The theory went something like this: Maybe one of them spilt coffee on the cushion and was too embarrassed to say anything and accordingly they threw the cushion out the window, or alternatively, smuggled it out in one of the small Samsonite bags. This I think was discarded as being too ridiculous as it was hard to imagine how a cushion and clothes for the weekend would have fitted in one of the bags. The FM very casually called the ‘orribles and very casually slipped into the conversation the fact that there was a cushion missing and they hadn’t happened to see it or put it in their bag by mistake had they?
Of course they both strongly denied having anything to do with the missing cushion and that was that, or so he thought. A couple of days later he received an anonymous email from someone claiming to have the cushion and demanding payment for its release and safe return...
We found out later that the ‘orribles had been in contact and asked each other if they had the bloody missing cushion and to just return it and be done with it. When it became evident that neither of them had the bloody missing cushion, they realised that the FM was not of sound mind, which must have already been apparent to them as they had both known him for some time, and it was then that the cushion-napping scheme was devised.
I believe this is when he realized they did in fact not have the missing cushion and so he went back to his nightly search and wondering what had happened to the missing cushion.
This went on for about 5 months (I absolutely did not want to go back to the big shop on the North Circular), every night a complete search and on weekends a search that included the boxes in the attic, the oven and the bath. Finally I gave in and back we went to the big shop on the North Circular. Fortunately the sofas are on display at the beginning of the interminable maze so we didn’t have to go far to see our BWS on display in the living room sets. There it was with all its cushions, which happened to be exactly the same number of cushions that we had back in the little yellow apartment, just better arranged. We quickly retraced our steps and left.

We never returned to the big shop on the North Circular.

The ‘orribles never returned to the little yellow apartment but have visited since.

The BWS is now in retirement in the South of France with all its original cushions.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Crocs With Socks And Other Crimes

I seem to have missed out on the 'elation' stage mentioned by expat experts and gone directly to stage 2, officially called 'Resistance', which for me is very, very irked and irritated.

The crimes so far:

1. First and foremost, Prague has failed the first two tests, the availability of Vanity Fair and anchovies (I have my priorities) but we do have a shop that sells only rope very close by. I am still trying to think of ways to use such an amazing variety of rope around the apartment.
No comments from Paul - who I am sure can come up with a lot of inventive ways with rope.

2. Annoyingly the FM cunningly organizing his schedule so that he has in fact not seen a packing box, except about 3 boxes full of his work that I have refused to unpack and are still awaiting removal to his place of work.

3. The moving company, Team Allied if you want to know and I still don't want to talk about it.

4. Socks with sandals or possibly worse, socks with crocs really does exist here in excruciatingly large numbers and it appears that this is de rigueur not only for locals but also tourists.

Apparently when you buy shoes here, on the receipt is a list of regulations for wearing shoes, included in which is that shoes are not meant to be used outdoors.
Aha, so that’s why everybody wearing sandals or Crocs with socks, it's the law and one is forced into it in order to protect proper shoes from improper wear.
So I imagine Czech people are very well shod indoors. I will get back to you on this, if I am ever invited indoors.

5. One month for the internet set up, and then only in Etienne's bedroom, and the FM had the audacity to ask why I had it set up there – well that would because they couldn’t set it up in the bathroom, of course.

6. Czech language, OK I know I’m not the world’s most gifted linguist, but signs are not looking good, after one month I can say: Hello, Goodbye and two beers please (don't know how to say one, or any other number for that matter).

So for all those who aren't discouraged by the above, bring ham, anchovies and Vanity Fair and stock up on condoms as they are only sold in packs of three.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Christmas With The Family Who Wish To Remain Anonymous

The person that was organising Christmas with the family who wish to remain anonymous died then someone with whom the FWWTRA were meant to be spending Christmas with was diagnosed with lung cancer then someone else whom the FWWTRA did spend Christmas with was beaten up by their boyfriend the night before Christmas Eve (who said he ‘saved her from committing suicide’), then someone from the FWWTRA had their wallet stolen the day after Christmas (for the second time in Madrid) then the FWWTRA’s top floor apartment was broken into via the balcony door on New Year’s day at 5.30am when the FWWTRA were sleeping, a discovery that was made thanks to the baby monitor (intruders were heard via the aforementioned device) and was then told by the police – well you live on the top floor, happens all the time. The FWWTRA would like to recommend the Philips SCD489 Baby Monitor as a backup security apparatus.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Impossibility Of Good Bread

I started out by asking people in the street where to get good bread, a perfectly reasonable question in France, but I was getting very strange – why on earth would you want to eat bread anyway? – looks. It turns out that the Spanish only eat ham. Seriously, who knew they ate so much of the stuff? There are as many shops selling ham here as there are pharmacies in France, and trust me, that is a lot. My favourite is the museo del jamón (which if my Spanish serves me is the museum of ham) which is either a really popular name for a shop selling ham or it’s a chain. Our closest Museo del Jamon is open from 8.00am – 2.00am. Try that on a 35 hour working week. So we are back on lovely white sliced bread, which at the moment, possibly due to slight translation problems comes in slices as thick as, well I don’t even know how to describe how thick it is. Basically you have to put an awful lot of ham in the sandwich to be able to taste the ham; luckily we are in the right country for that. The bread is very sweet and sticky obviously not meant to be eaten with ham, so I’m guessing you’re just meant to take you ham straight up.

Grocery shopping is lucky dip at the moment as I am shopping on the internet. It takes a long time and a lot of dictionary consultation and I am taking delivery of a lot of things I can’t remember ordering. The brand names are ever so slightly different like Cif for Jif, Dodot for Pampers and Kalia for Vanish. Toilet Duck is obviously Pato W.C.
I am pleased to report that anchovies are widely available but I just can’t find those Kleenex tissues with balm yet.

Dogs are banned here like children are in Paris, in restaurants, shops and other public places. Parisians definitely prefer dogs to children. No children, but come on in with your smoking dog.

I can’t comment on Spanish television yet but as this is the birthplace of Hello (¡Hola!) where the big news is at the moment is Carlos y Camilla I have high hopes of entertaining quality television.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in that fashion disaster that was the 70’s and had an orange vinyl waistcoat with matching orange vinyl miniskirt – yes I really did, presumably to match my hair colour and it was my very best outfit, I have the school photo to prove it, alas available only in black and white, that I find the children’s fashion here so alarming. In Madrid it’s like stepping back in time, far beyond the horrors of the 70’s. The outfits the Madrileño children are wearing are borderline ridiculous. The boys are wearing long shorts with braces (naturally) with long socks and plaid shirts with button-down collars, girls are wearing (in soft pastel blue or pink) very short dresses with frilly underwear, little cropped cardigans in very fine wool, ballet slippers and large satin bows that make their heads look like Easter eggs. These outfits are worn to the park and not just on Sundays. Of course they all have those tailored overcoats with velvet collars and if they belong to the same family they will be wearing exactly the same outfit.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Protests and pigeons

Undoubtedly Paris is a breathtakingly beautiful city; and the shopping is great once you have navigated the pitfalls of a 35 hour working week.
Is it closed on a Monday or a Tuesday?
Of course it’s closed on Sunday.
Does it close for lunch from 12.00 to 14.00?
Or 13.00-15.00?
Or maybe 12.00-15.00?
Then you can go to Madeleine Gely at 218 Avenue Saint-Germain, a shop selling handy little fur lined umbrellas and custom made umbrellas, or to Maria Luisa at 19 bis Rue Mont Thabor, the only stockist of Manolo Blahnik in Paris, carrying a small but perfectly formed collection, Or my favourite shop in Paris, BHV, though I have to admit they have reasonable opening hours; they are open on Mondays and lunchtimes. BHV is a department store (8 floors) with a fantastic Aladdin’s hardware cavern in the basement.

I’m sorry to have to bring this up but why do Parisian men have to pee on the streets?
Clearly it’s a guy thing to pee outside. Here they mark there territory on the street, that’s obviously if for some inexplicable reason they can’t do it in a car park which seems to be the preferred choice, more discreet perhaps? Or maybe it’s just a seasonal thing – car parks are preferable in the winter?

Something else inexplicable, why were the Foreign Legion marching wearing what appeared to be butchers’ aprons and carrying axes during the 14th July parade?

Protestors are out in force as we approach the strike season, there is even a website: www.lesgreves.com to ascertain who is striking this week. The organisation of the protests is impressive. Groups from all over France arrive at different metro stations, and then make their way to the starting point on foot. Off they go, marching in an orderly fashion with flags denoting which region they have come from. They sometimes have balloons. Maia has become quite a fan, especially if they have balloons. They are followed by police who are followed by the street cleaners.

The beautiful wide boulevards of Paris so ideal for protesters and parades were not in fact built for the citizens so much as against the citizens. They were designed to be too wide to build barricades across, and straight enough to aim a canon at any citizens that might be uprising in the streets. Protestors didn’t have the support they enjoy today back in the time of Napoleon III. Paris was redesigned by Haussmann, a city planner. Personally I see a pattern, city planners against the people. It continues to this day, in one of the universities, pebbles are embedded in concrete to make it too slippery for protesting students to stand on when water canons are being aimed at them.

There are principally two problems with Parisian parks; firstly you’re not allowed to sit on the grass except for one small over subscribed patch of grass in the Jardin de Luxembourg, that leads to the second problem of trying to find a park bench that is not enshrouded in pigeon fertilizer.
The Parisian pigeons seem to be a lot larger and sleeker than the London pigeons I remember, but that could just be a cultural thing, obviously the Parisian pigeons are more concerned with grooming whilst the Londoners are out drinking on the rooftops.
We are talking about big fat fornicating birds, and I do mean that literally. All they do is chase each other, for shagging purposes and eat what I fervently hope are conceptive pills. It’s a vicious circle; they are supplied with copious amounts of baguette crumbs by the little old ladies of the hood, which then makes them too fat (or are they all pregnant?) to get any decent elevation when flying. Consequently when chased by children, they barely make it over the children’s heads (that surely could be intentional on the part of the pigeons). The little old ladies `tut tut´ and feed the pigeons more bread, possibly deliberately, to keep them flying low over the children’s heads.

I also have been living on bread as it is so magnifique and proof man can live on bread and, wine and cheese alone, with maybe an occasional salad thrown in. Surely more agreeable than the Otago University researchers who tried to prove that man, or possibly they meant students, a different species altogether, could live on beer and fish and chips, allegedly they all got scurvy. It’s amazing I haven’t turned into a smelly wine soaked baguette by now, but it could possibly take a little longer, I will press on with the study.

I have recently spent time in the suburbs (banlieue) of Paris, a very scary place for someone with absolutely no sense of direction; I need mappy to go to the supermarket.
Yes, if you live in the suburbs you can have a garden and therefore dogs – not that the lack of a private garden prevents the inner city dwellers from rampant dog ownership. Or you could live in the suburbs and have three dogs all needing psychoanalysis. Two big dogs, one of a nervous disposition whose fur falls out and eats her own tail, the other big one has halitosis and a taste for small dogs and the small dog that lives inside and thinks she’s a cat.
And yes, you could even have you own private swimming pool. Or you could have a swimming pool full of gold fish, which would be tragic if it wasn’t 13°C in July. It was tragic last year (during la canicule) when it was so hot that the acorns simultaneously decided to commit suicide one night at 10pm.
So I am looking forward to getting out of la banlieue and back to the city and into our apartment. Just as soon as our band of Portuguese builders and Romanian cabinet maker (certified at the University of Transylvania) leave. Five months and counting.