Friday, May 23, 2008

Guitar Wolf - Jet Generation


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Having been born and brought up on an island I still find land borders a rather difficult concept to get my head round. Before anyone protests, Scotland and Wales don’t really count, we’re all part of the same state and with only very few exceptions, speak the same language. Here though, in a small, landlocked country, there are borders all over the place. Now that CZ has been accepted into the Schengen zone the situation seems even stranger. Borders are invisible and whiz by unannounced. Not so long ago they were nigh on impossible to cross, now they’re nigh on impossible to notice. No more surly, officious border guards armed with guns and Alsatians, no more suspicious glances (and back in the days a Western passport really did almost guarantee extra scrutiny), no more cute stamps on our passports. Suddenly you’re in a different country, with a different government, language, culture and standard of living (and currency, though not for long).

You might think that the locals would have jumped at every opportunity to make use of their relatively new-found geographical mobility, but that hasn’t entirely come to fruition. Of course, people here do cross borders, but often in a very limited manner. The older generation of Czechs in particular are accustomed to a peculiarly unadventurous form of travel – the bus excursion. I’ve experienced a couple of these myself and have to acknowledge their one great advantage, i.e. they’re very, very cheap. There are disadvantages however. One is considerable discomfort, since if it’s over any longer distance it will involve an overnight bus journey both there and back in order to save money on accommodation. Nobody’s complaining here, though I felt a mixture of admiration, slight shame and trepidation on seeing the age of some of those preparing for this physical ordeal. Another drawback is the acute lack of freedom on these occasions. The atmosphere is like that of a school trip, ruled over with a rod of iron by a bossy schoolmarm tour guide* with an extreme case of verbal diarrhoea and a neat line in in-bus sleep deprivation tactics, marching her bleary-eyed lemmings through the streets at breakneck pace, bombarding them with copious volumes of sublimely uninteresting minutiae and chastising any miscreants foolhardy enough to be guilty of tardiness. The only conclusion I could draw from it was that Czech pensioners actually enjoy being treated like seven year old children.

Naturally this is not the only travel option taken by the Czechs, but the locals (and again, age plays a large role) here seem equally herd-like when it comes to their choice of destination. So although I’ve met very few Czechs who’ve never been to Croatia, I’m always surprised, given that it’s less than 100 miles from here, at how few of the people I’ve met have ever been to Poland, and the situation seemed very similar on the other side of the border. Krakow is a superb town, not so much further from here than Prague and nowadays competing with the Czech capital as a tourist destination, but probably less than a quarter of the Czechs I know have been there. (To add a note of balance, some Czechs are also surprised that I’ve never been to Stonehenge, but my answer to that is always that I’m not a fucking hippy). Why this lack of curiosity concerning their neighbours? It almost seems as if the two nations are barely aware of the other’s existence. A quite surreal example of this is the town of Český Těšín / Cieszyn, about one third of which is in the Czech Republic and the remainder in Poland. I remember the first time I was there, many years ago, when in a fumbling mixture of Czech and Polish, which are in any case fairly similar languages, I asked for directions to the station. Because in my haste and ignorance I used the Czech word for station, however, I met with blank looks. Now I don’t believe for a minute that people living in a town which is partially in the Czech Republic don’t know the Czech word for railway station, so why the attitude? It’s not as if I’d spoken to them in Russian. I quickly realised that despite the similarities of the two Slavic languages, I’d be much better off in Poland speaking English.

These days, in Krakow at least, I feel I’m between a rock and a hard place linguistically, since being the “new Prague” it’s chock-full of Brit louts and many pubs display “no stag parties” signs (in English, and no other language). Although to be frank, if I was organising a stag party, Krakow would definitely be way lower down my list than Prague. This is for the reason, mentioned earlier, that Polish beer is over twice the price of Czech beer and a fraction of the quality. I know I’m spoilt living here, Czech beer is truly fantastic, but even taking this into account Polish beer is really dreadful piss, by absolute, not relative standards. There was even one pub we went to on our recent Krakow trip where we literally could not drink it. Again this is something I do not understand. We’re all in the EU, right? We have free trade within the EU, don’t we? If the Poles can’t brew beer, and clearly they can’t, can’t they at least import Czech beer and sell it at a reasonable price? Evidently not. The reverse applies regarding vodka. Czech vodka is somewhere between bad and positively dangerous, whereas Polish vodka is of extraordinarily high quality. But can you get Zubrowka round here? Can you fuck. Absolut, Finlandia, Smirnoff? No problem. And no shortage of shops selling Zubrowka in London. Here though, you’d be more likely to find moon rocks.

Slavic brothers and sisters! Free yourselves! The greatest borders are the ones in your minds!

*On a trip to Venice several years ago now our guide, for example, gave us practical advice on clothing to wear, reminding us that “it’s better to be dry than to be wet”, as well as which she informed and entertained us by reading out Karel Čapek’s musings on Venice amongst other things. During a rare break from fulminating into the microphone she kept us awake in the bus by playing us a video of populist Czech media personality Halina Pawlowská’s guide to Vienna (see the relevance anyone?). Congratulations are due to Mr Matthew Sweney on this occasion. At breakfast in our cheap hotel we were lucky enough to be joined by a young, attractive Czech lady who had had the sense or good fortune to travel down on the other bus. Not one to miss such a golden opportunity, Mr Sweney struck up a conversation. “You’re lucky you’re not on our bus. We’ve got this right old bag of a tour guide who will just not shut up…” and went on to detail her numerous faults. “She’s my mother”, replied our tablemate.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Einsturzende Neubauten - Ich Bin's (Live 1990)

Nothing like a bit of German austerity to set things right.

Actually, is modern life rubbish?

I think mostly, yes, and a number of things have been swimming round my head these last few days on that theme, which I’ll try to put into some sort of order. These have included not only the Impostume’s recent, uncharacteristically psychotic and expletive-riddled outbursts (good show old boy!), but also some experiences of my own, partly in connection with the demon technology. One thing that really pissed me off last weekend on a train ride to (and back from) Krakow was the utterly thoughtless, inhumane arrogance of technology, or rather the totalitarian bastards responsible for putting it into practice. Technology’s so fucking brilliant and so much more appropriate for running our lives than we are, cutting out the meddlesome and impudent decision-making process of the human brain, so we get superbly smoothly gliding, air-conditioned trains, which naturally, being air-conditioned, are also air-tight. So if the air conditioning is shit, which it invariably fucking is, we can’t open the fucking window. In order to like, breathe. Which is obviously a gigantic and potentially alarming pain in the arse for those mere travellers (although why should we give a shit about them if the trains run on time? Which they usually don’t) during the entire journey, but much, much more acute during those periods when the train needlessly stops dead for half an hour at the station nearest the border (presumably out of nostalgia for the pre-Schengen Agreement days, so that we can all at least reminisce about the old days when being molested by pot-bellied, pistol-packing border guards with acrid b.o. was the highlight of the Warsaw train ride), when the shit air conditioning system shuts down completely and so everyone on the entire fucking train rushes to the doors at the end of the carriage, to press the informatively coloured green button (which means open, and they even tell you that in several languages – thanks for that) repeatedly every thirty seconds (after which the doors automatically close and have to be re-opened) for the entire half hour until the train starts moving again, in order not to fucking DIE.

Ah of course, I could be a liberal fence-sitter and acknowledge how great technology can be, and it can, but is that the point? Why should it be shit? Why should anything be shit? So to the next techno bitch ready for a good slapping, easy fucking jet. Yes, you cuntheads, let’s address the issue of your website. How stupid do you think we are when your “contact us” button leads us to a number of pre-arranged questions you’ve designed? To maximise our comfort, no doubt. Like we should be grateful that you’ve absolved us of the cumbersome responsibility of thinking up our own inquiries. You know you don’t believe that. And you know we don’t believe that. It’s one of those grim, stoically hypocritical marriages. “I know you know I know we both despise each other and have been sleeping with everyone we know except one another for the last ten years, but we’ll soldier on just so long as nobody actually says it out loud”. Let’s just admit it you cynical Nazis, this is a fucking war. You don’t want to make life more convenient for us, you just want to make it as convenient as possible for yourselves. With your rigged questions you’ll do virtually anything to avoid facing a direct inquiry as to why you’re so shit. Now naturally your answer’s going to be something like “we just want to save time and cut costs to make life easier and cheaper for you”, whereas what you mean is “we don’t want to employ anyone who has the skills to answer your questions because that would cut into our profits too much, so we’ll fend you off with a computer generated banality. And don’t get cocky, if you don’t like it you can fuck off and pay (at least) twice the price with British Airways – a truly ethical airline! You come to us for cheap flights, not good customer service!”. And cheap bastard that I am, it’s a deal I’m more than ready to accept. But I’d be much happier if you just owned up about it.

Wait a minute… wasn’t that Impostume weirdo going on about how there’s too much good service about? Well FUCK THAT SHIT!! What does he know about anything? Seriously though, having lived in a post-communist state for over 12 years now, I’ve had my fair share of bad service, and to be frank, I don’t see why I should put up with any more. Fine, in shitty, soulless supermarkets I don’t want to be drooled over by some obsequious twat or be bludgeoned with insincere, fatuous chirpiness by some poor fool who clearly has no more enthusiasm for such bullshit than I do, but on the other hand I, unlike a great deal of public servants here, can’t see what’s wrong with being polite. Let’s take restaurants. Now these days I have no idea how much waiters are earning back in the West, but I do know that here in CZ the wages they’re earning are certainly better than those earned by supermarket checkout drones. And don’t get me wrong, some of them do a bloody good job. But others are right shitheads.

Let me start from the beginning. When I first came out to “Eastern Europe”, as the Czechs hate this region to be called, I’d already been warned about the standard of service here. And lo and behold, in many, but by no means all places, it was appallingly, but also laughably shoddy. Having a sense of humour, which over the years has been whittled down to a forlorn husk, I rather unthinkingly put this down to the evils of communism, which is after all almost indescribably evil, and simply accepted that this was my fate as a stupid foreigner when I first arrived. But having been here a while and learnt the language, and having experienced dumb, arrogant crap service, frequently from sullen young pups patently too young to even remember the old regime, I’ve come round to the conclusion that there’s no excuse for being so pointlessly fucking rude. Why can’t these people smile and be polite? In the case of waiters it’s virtually in their job description. I don’t want to be their best friend, but I also want to deal with someone who actually knows about their job and what it entails. For example, about a month ago I was in a restaurant, which boasted the speciality of a “Serbian cutlet”. Sounded ok, but I required some clarification, so I asked the waitress what it meant. “Some kind of meat” was her answer. Oh, right. Not a lettuce cutlet then? Now call me a tyrannical middle class fascist if you want, but why can’t these people learn the job they’re clearly not doing? Here I genuinely believe that the owner of the restaurant ought to be checking up on them and sacking the grumpy, lazy arses who are driving customers away.

If it’s any consolation to the Czechs (I don’t want to slag off your country, honest!), the situation was worse in Poland, where we not only had to pay more than double Czech prices for almost undrinkable piss beer, but despite being paying customers were in one case charged extra to use the pub toilet. To which we chose the only possible dignified response, i.e. since we were sitting in the beer garden we merely hopped over the railings and pissed against a tree in the park, in full view of the waiter.

Bollocks to the Impostume! Long live good service! Proles, lick my balls!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Modern life is rubbish. Well, isn't it? Mind you, Blur can fuck off too. Miserable sod that Impostume.

Monday, May 05, 2008

No comment required
Grubby business, politics. So back in the UK the Labour Party, under the benevolent and charismatic leadership of Gordon Brown, have taken a violent battering, which can have surprised nobody, and Red Ken Livingstone has lost his job as Mayor of London, which may have surprised some. I don’t want to get too sentimental about Ken when he’s been gone a matter of days, or to succumb to feelings of pity for a man who is reputed to be a ruthlessly self-centred political operator, but I can’t help feeling that had he not returned to the Labour fold he would still be king of London today. It’s hard not to suspect that part of the reason he was elected in the first place was because a large proportion of Londoners admired him for defying Blair and New Labour. In addition to that, he’ll probably be best remembered, and celebrated, as the mayor who introduced the congestion charge, a measure which none of the mainstream political parties would have had the balls to bring in but which has nevertheless been so successful that not even Tory Boris Johnson is going to repeal it, though I’m naturally disappointed that Boris doesn’t intend to go through with Ken’s plans to increase it to £25 a day for greedy, Porsche driving cunts. Surely Ken’s popularity would have soared if, when sheepishly invited back into the Labour Party with an apology uttered through gritted teeth, he’d simply told them to piss off a second time. Was his misjudgement and consequent downfall due to incompetent opportunism or misplaced philanthropy? The former, probably, let’s not forget he’s a politician.

Here President Václav Klaus continues to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Thatcher, not only in terms of his professed ideology but also in his increasingly eccentric behaviour. By the end of Thatcher’s term in office even many of her admirers conceded that she was blatantly barking mad and drunk on delusions of grandeur, and the same is evidently true of Klaus, who has another 5 years to go as president – oh joy. Universal arbiter and patron of art and culture that he is, he’s been poking his nose into the business of the design for the new national library, hysterically pronouncing his intention to prevent the projected building works with his own body. I don’t wish to discourage him in any way, since the image of him chained to a railing, sweating in his immaculate business suit as a bulldozer prepares to drive his anus through his skull is one that gives me great mirth. However, hard as it is for me to say this, I don’t like the design myself and so on this issue I’m on the same side as Klaus, but then I’m no expert on architecture, and even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. But I wouldn’t go so far as to declare that “I make no secret of the fact that I fundamentally and absolutely dislike the design for the library, and cannot very well believe that anyone could hold the opposite opinion”. Well obviously, how could they? For a single reason, according to Mr President – merely out of some petty personal vendetta to spite Klaus, who also describes the architect as “arrogant”. Come again?

Not to be outdone by Thatcher’s ludicrous “we are very proud to be a grandmother” – yes, whilst still PM! – Klaus has also now taken to referring to himself in the royal plural, according to journalists the message on his voicemail is “We cannot be reached”. Christ, five more years.