Sunday, January 25, 2009

Judged against British standards Olomouc is a small, tranquil town, which certainly in comparison with my home town of Coventry is pleasingly free of violence. There are unfortunate exceptions to this of course, but the violence that does occur is usually of a different type to the British classic of random psychos, or gangs of psychos, going out on the town for the sole purpose of looking for an excuse to shout “what you fuckin’ starin’ at?” before battering some innocent party over the head with a pool cue. Here any violence is more likely to be in connection with extreme right-wing politics, football hooliganism or organised crime, three groups of animals which overlap considerably.

As a result, such violence, though less commonplace, has the potential to be extremely nasty. A few days ago one such incident of the organised crime variety took place in the town centre, ending in the murder, or at the very least manslaughter of a taxi driver. I probably ought to be ashamed to say this, but the outcome of one cabbie being stabbed to death and another going to prison for a very long time strikes me as what a thicko football manager might call a “proper result”.

The desire for bloody revenge does not belong to the more noble human qualities, but few of us are immune to its charms. At times it’s tempting to believe in a vengeful god, and in fact most religious people do, the vindictive shits. As an atheist I suppose I ought to be above such baseness, but the sad fact is that I am not (hard to believe I know, usually I’m such a nice, placid sort of a chap). Well whatever, I might wish a violent death on some people, but at least I’m not stupid enough to believe in god.

The reason I hate these particular taxi drivers so much is because of an experience I had three years ago, during a particularly bitter Czech winter. There was at least a foot of snow outside, it was well below zero and my girlfriend and I had just spent the evening at the annual “beer ball”, which took place on the edge of town, and had to get a cab back to her place at about 2 in the morning. Needless to say, after a beer ball neither of us was entirely sober, and trying to be fair and evaluate everything from both sides, this may have had an influence on the events which followed. We jumped into a taxi, upon which the driver deliberately ignored all our directions, claiming “it’s all the same”, and took a circuitous route to my girlfriend’s place, which he then of course attempted to use as an excuse to overcharge us. Knowing that this was an obvious scam, as well as being a bit pissed up, I told him I’d give him two thirds of what he’d charged, because we all knew he was shamelessly trying to rip us off. The driver refused to take what I offered him, and insisted on the full inflated price, resulting in a standoff. I told him that if he wasn’t satisfied he should call the police, meanwhile unbeknown to me he sent out a distress signal to his colleagues. Within a few minutes six more taxis pulled up, and I was suddenly surrounded by seven gorillas demanding money out of me rather forcefully.

Obviously now it sounds pathetic, since the money they wanted came to less than 2 quid, but, being pissed and mouthy, I was concerned with the principle of the thing. The fact that he had called his mates and not the police convinced me even further that the taxi mafia were in the wrong, so full of Dutch courage, I refused to pay. The end result was that seven of them beat me up, not extremely badly, but I got a black eye and a few kicks in the stomach and thighs out of it. Finally, after being threatened with being dumped in the boot and driven out to a lake five miles out of town in sub-zero temperatures, I capitulated and gave them their (absurdly small) ill-gotten gains.

Afterwards I went to the police, but as you might expect, they were a fat lot of good. The taxi drivers had a very well worked out drill for making sure no witnesses saw exactly which of them had thrown the punches or dealt out the kicks, so despite me wasting several hours, and on several occasions when I could have been working, answering questions (idiot that I am, I answered them honestly) and making lengthy statements down at the police station, the police came up with fuck all.

So forgive me if I don’t don a black armband and rub ash all over my face. The papers still haven’t released the name of the deceased yet, and obviously I’m hoping that he’s one of those who gave me a kicking. Even if he wasn’t I know he was a co-owner of the firm whose drivers were responsible, and that it’s clearly company policy to beat up awkward customers. Add to this the newspaper report, which states that the man in question, who was – surprise, surprise – an ex-copper, began randomly attacking drivers from the rival, split-off taxi firm, one of whom went to report the matter to the police. In the meantime he continued to attack several more rival taxi drivers, behaving “like a psychopath”, until eventually he picked on the wrong man and was stabbed three times.

What, am I supposed to resist a snigger? Fuck it, and fuck you. That’s the kind of world these people live in, that’s the way they live and die. In keeping with the general bad taste of this post I’ll end it with a quote, appropriately enough from Taxi Driver: “One day a real rain’s gonna come and wash all this scum off the streets”.

In the meantime this wee shower will do nicely.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pippi Loves Spunk


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bravo! Another major EU-related debacle, and we’re still only half way through January. Apparently this work of art cost something within the region of £400 thousand, though the Czech government only put up approximately £67 thousand of this – still not an insignificant sum of money. Will they get it back? Whatever, it’s going to be a rollercoaster of a six months.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

big black - bad penny

For all the disco lovers out there

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Usually, for all my curmudgeonly exterior and grumblings about the pressure to have fun being a pain in the arse, I get sucked into “having a good time” in jovial company on New Year’s Eve, and to my enormous shame heartily enjoying it to boot. This time, however, I really started the year as I meant to go on – staying in on my own, suffering from a cold, drinking slivovice and watching reruns of Father Ted (I have to admit, I rather enjoyed that too). Naturally the runny nose and solitary New Year wasn’t anything I planned, but it seemed to capture the pessimistic, miserablist feel of the times.

Back in Blighty people really are shitting themselves! It’s ace! Nobody feels secure in their job any more, everyone’s fretting over the family finances, and on this occasion, for the first time since I’ve been living out here I didn’t feel a complete pauper on my return there. To say I felt stinking rich would be an exaggeration, but with the triple-whammy effect of the post-Christmas sales (I still remember the days when they used to be called the January sales), the economic crisis causing yet further price slashes and the pound falling through the floor, Britain is now a shopper’s paradise for Czechs. Clothes are now in many cases down to a third of the price of similar garments here, and the same also applies to some other goods. Astonishingly even the price of beer is now comparable – when I first came out here in the mid 90s I remember telling jealous and incredulous mates back home that I was paying 25p a pint while they were paying approximately £2. Now, however, out of sheer desperation J.D. Wetherspoon’s have cut the price of one of their beers to 99p, which is little more than the average price of a pint, or more precisely half-litre, here in Spleensville. Of course this means that Wetherspoon’s pubs will now be attracting even more psychos than usual and will have to spend more on cleaning their upholstery after punters have pissed themselves, but evidently they think it’s their only option. At least train services are still reassuringly overpriced, overcrowded and shit, with all trains in the entire country cancelled on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, plus all sorts of other disruptions throughout the period. Business as fucking usual there then.

No longer considered penny-pinching East European peasants in today’s recession-hit Britain, and with their country now holding the rotating EU presidency, perhaps the Czechs might be lulled into thinking they’ve finally arrived then? Maybe not. Czechs do a pretty good line in pessimism, and in some cases it’s justified. For a start, few people are foolhardy enough to believe we’re not all going to get shafted here too, even if it might be amusing to watch the Yanks and Brits suffer in the meantime before we get our dose of misery. Leaving aside the depressing issue of the President’s insanity, there’s also the rather perturbing fact that, with temperatures down to –20°C in some places, the Russians have shut off the gas supply to the country. In addition, the EU presidency is not something that most Czechs have awaited with eager anticipation, but dreaded as a period that has to be stoically muddled through with gritted teeth, all the time praying that the country doesn’t embarrass itself too much.

Things didn’t get off to the best of starts, since within a couple of days of taking over the presidency the Czechs raised eyebrows worldwide with their statement, on behalf of the entire EU, that the Israeli action in Gaza is “defensive, not offensive”. This immediately prompted other European leaders to break with the “official” EU line and condemn the Israeli offensive, with even the USA supporting UN calls for a ceasefire. Nicolas Sarkozy, seemingly convinced that he is still European führer, snubbed the Czechs further, embarking upon a separate diplomatic mission to the Middle East. In other words, prompted by the clodhopping buffoonery of the Czech administration, it took less than a week for the rest of the EU to reveal their true colours and shun the official EU leadership as that of an insignificant, tinpot little country. Hopefully Sarkozy, a worthy rival of Klaus in terms of ludicrous egomania, will at least help divert attention away from us while the matter gets swept under the carpet.

The What Republic? Happy New Year!