Holiday Hair

So, last week we took three of our grandchildren to Zakynthos for a week. It was good. I especially enjoyed the day at the Water Village at Zakarinado. For a man in his mid fifties there’s not much in this wonderful world to compare with having to repeatedly climb up and slide down the wide assortment of sixty or seventy feet high water slides with such appealing names as the Boomerango, the Super Bowl and the wonderful Black Hole with a nine year old. Geo, the thirteen year old, had originally accompanied little Josh on his first ascent, but they swiftly returned, Josh looking well peeved and Geo ashen and shaking, repeating in a Zombie-like manner, “I’m not going up that. Look at it. I’m especially not going down it. Look at it. Look up!”

And as these rides all require a pair of humans to partake of the thrills, owing to the fact that you ride down on dual rings, and probably stuff to do with physics, fluid mechanics, weight distribution and a two-for one offer at the local graveyard, I was the one chosen to accompany the boy on the rides. I loved the lazy river though. I could have spent all day on it. Lovely day out.

For the most part though, our time was spent either in or by the pool, in the sea and on the beach, and wandering along the lovely seaside paths. Both boys asked me why so many girls and women on the beach and at the pool were only wearing bikini bottoms and nothing up top, Geo with more interest than the younger one. I simply advised them to enjoy the scenery and study the effects of sunlight on skin which is normally covered up. But don’t get caught staring. Eye contact is forgivable though. Just don’t waver in your gaze boys.

The food was good, naturally, and for Jess it was her second holiday to Greece with us, and she especially enjoyed the boat trip round the south of the island. We’re going to Crete in September, Juanita and I. No children this time.

 

So then the other day, upon shaving, I noticed that my ears and nose needed trimming already. The sun, sea and Mythos must have put a spurt of growth on it. The ears are quite easy to deal with as it’s mostly a patch of fuzzy dark growth that can be removed by pressing the ear from behind and skimming a well lubricated Gillette fusion over the offending area repeatedly yet gently at various angles until the lobes look like a porn starlet’s mound of joy. But without the bruises or friction burns. Then a quick swipe around the edges to mop up any strays. In both cases.

The nose is another matter entirely. The stuff that constantly bushes out of the nostrils is still easily controlled by the clandestine use of my wife’s ‘intimate shaving and shaping tool’ as long as I can remain convincing when denying all knowledge of why it’s getting so blunt so quickly. She doesn’t scream that loudly so it can’t be too bad. If I’m feeling particularly raunchy or simply in a hurry, I’ll swipe my razor around the outer edge of my nostrils to remove the most offensively visible hairs.

But. Until I entered my fifties, a razor was sufficient to sort out the external stuff too. Now, with increasing age, the hairs which sprout from the finely curved leading edge are becoming sturdier and thicker. I’ve found that the only serious way to deal with them is to grit my teeth and pluck the fuckers out one by one, individually and completely. Not so long ago it was but a fine down which occasionally I would notice in my lower peripheries, but now every time I look down my vision is blocked by huge white poles erupting from in front of me. Some of the bastards are thick enough that I’m almost tempted to let them grow, harvest them and weave them into capstan ties with which to turn an easier profit from the hardened sea-dogs down on the fishermen’s wharf. A few cables woven from my nasal hairs would probably be strong enough to haul the fucking Titanic from her grave.

Which reminds me, I’ll need a haircut from Richie before I go away in September. There’s something to look for’ard to. Fretful Mathew came into my shop the other day, freshly barbered by Richie. He looked spick and span, yet sorely troubled.

“Graham, ” he started, “do you think that the barber Rick really can’t get through a sentence without at least two words beginning with ‘F’ being used? I find it very wearing.”

I considered long, hard and deeply, for at the time I was deep in conversational intercourse with the lovely Alex, a new regular young lady customer and my mind was wandering in pastures new, green, elegant and very winsome.

“No, Mathew” I said. “He really can’t. Because he’s a fu

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Beach

I got home from my little shop this evening in a state of sweatiness. My but it was hot today, and I hankered to cool down.

So I decided to have a snack instead of dinner and then go for a swim, and thus had two slices of bread toasted, one with crab pate upon it and the other heavily smeared with caramelised onion humus. While eating I was listening, as I am now, to the lovely Lana del Ray’s Born to Die. Her voice tingles somewhere between a couple of mine vertebrae. My hausfrau, the lovely Juanita, was getting ready to go to work and thought I could have found a better use for my evening, but we agreed to disagree.

It’s only a fifteen minute brisk stroll to the beach so probably as she was tending her first catheterised matriarch of the evening, I was sitting on the pebbles in the rays of the slowly descending sun, wondering how cool the water would be and if I maybe could have found a better way to spend the evening after all, like sitting out in the garden with a bottle or two of German lager.

I needn’t have worried about the sea temperature, two or three days of sunshine have raised it up to ten or eleven degrees, so it was smoothly comfortable after the initial testicle shrivelling chill. I swam and frolicked for fifteen or twenty minutes before emerging dripping and flaccid out of the gentle swell and sat for a short while longer on the beach. It was a pleasant walk home, and the rising full moon was as high above the horizon as was the setting sun on the opposite side of the sky. I bumped into my mate Andy who was out testing a new lens on his camera.

“You want to take my picture Andy?” I asked.

“Nah, mate. This is a new lens. It’s for landscapes. Not portraits. And why would I want a photo of you? I can see your ugly mush every day. If I wanted to.” There’s being told and there’s being told, no?

“Suit yourself. You could always fuck off up to the top of the hill and get a wide angle of the sun and moon at opposite sides of the sky?” I suggested with breathtaking helpfulness I thought. As Lana sings, I’m scared I’ll meet you on the other side, was the thought hovering just below awareness somewhere in the crowded space between my ears or even behind my eyes.

“Nah mate,” he said without even thinking about it. “See you tomorrow. Anyway, why are you dripping wet?”

“Because I didn’t bring a towel. Yeah, see you Andy.” I said and  wandered homeward, my loins girded yet uncomfortably salty and moist.

After a bath and a coffee, I went on Amazon and ordered me a new pair of water shoes. Mainly because Juanita said she doesn’t think I’ll need to get anything new for holiday. Hopefully they’ll be here before we go away next week.

 

 

Chickens

Blimey, the last post I put here was about our last holiday and I’ve got less than two weeks to got till the next one. We taking three of the grandchildren to Zakynthos soon. We looking forward to sunshine, Mythos and all the other stuff. Oh yes.

In keeping with my personal mission to keep the skin acclimatised to the ultraviolet, and also because it keeps my gut within manageable proportions vis-a-vis my waistbands various, and it is true, because I enjoy it, I took my familiar route on the bike ride the other evening. I try to achieve a thousand miles per annum, last year made it to 1003.6, and I’m up to 530 already here in the second week of July, so all is well. Half way along the lovely rural path leading through the estuarial water meadows and rabbit grounds, I saw a familiar figure walking towards me. It was Jane, with whom I shared a mutual fondness in our school years and for a while afterwards.

We weren’t exactly a couple, but she used to enjoy sitting and grinding on my lap out on the field at the back of secondary school, and when I first left home for the staff accommodation bedsit, she used to come up to my room after working her Saturday job at Woolies and we used to share Ski pineapple yogurts and have a giggle and stuff. Happy days. Sticky, too.

I stopped on the bike. She stopped walking and struggled to turn off the ipod and tear the ‘phones out of her ears. The years melted away as we stood and chatted. People walked past and she kept glancing a glance at the secluded footpath which leads off to the bushy walk. I felt a bit of a spasm of longing in the trouser area after a while and told her I’d better be on my way before we went up the path and did something that I’d later possibly regret. She hugged me and we parted, spoke words of lost longing and fondness and twice I looked over my shoulder and she was still looking my way and waving. I nearly knocked over a little old lady walking an aged, slightly infirm bulldog along the path. Thought I’d better cycle hard for a few more miles, burn off a few hormones and all that. And look where I was going.

Next day, after work, I was in the hardware place getting some guttering and fixings to make a drainage system for shed no.3 which I’ve just built on the bottom patio. Yeah, baby, I got two patios and three sheds. We had the house valued last month with a view to going somewhere a bit smaller. The estate agent was well impressed with my garden arrangements. Top patio for all day sun, with potted herbs and mediterranean shrubs and flowers, close to the gardening shed, down the lawn to the little outdoor gym in the middle shed, and then further down the lawn alongside the semi-submerged outhouse, a short secluded flight of steps to the bottom patio for morning sunshine and cool afternoons if the summer sun is too hot. Not much of a problem this year. But tucked in the corner at the opposite end to the outhouse is my new little shed for barbecues and equipment, fold-up chairs and a little chest of drawers for stuff I don’t know what else to do with.

So Jenny the aged hippy who lives along the road was there at the checkouts. She asked me if I wanted a lift home. She drives an old green Volvo estate. I asked her if that meant she wanted a hand with the brace of large bags of potting compost which were sitting like little slipped-disc timebombs on her trolley. She smiled and said yes so I said ok Jenny, dear aged widowed hippy lady. I loaded her two 50 litre bags of loam-rich compost into the boot, we manhandled the six foot lengths of guttering into the car and she drove back up our way.

We sat outside her house chatting a while then I said I’d better get her compost into her garden, and she asked me if I could take it to her conservatory.

“You’ve never been in my back garden, have you Graham?” she asked.

Gulp. “Er no, nor your front, Jenny,” I said. “Lead the way, dear lady.” I’m always open to new experiences.

“Do you want the guided tour?” asked she. In for a bag of compost, in for a guided tour of a widowed aged hippy lady’s back garden, thought I.

So I emptied the bags of compost into the huge bin at the side of her conservatory and embarked upon the adventure. She lives on the opposite side of the road to me, so whereas my garden sweeps uphill to the NorthEast, facing the afternoon and evening sun, hers leads downhill away from the rear of her house open all day to sunlight. It’s a similar size to mine but with only a small central lawn surrounded on two and a bit sides by a Gaudi-esque cement wall encrusted with broken tiles, crockery, ceramics and glass, the rest is broken up into five or six discrete and different areas. And it feels huge. Ooh, it gave me ideas of stuff to do with mine. There’s a veg patch, a little shrubbery, a green area, a seat hidden in a little shaded cove of green. Narrow brick paths everywhere, it seems. She’s got a little hermit’s cell at the very bottom of the garden, secluded by a cherry tree and small shrubs. Next to it, in a fair sized enclosure, live Clara, Susie and Belle, a handsome trio of brown laying hens. Jenny has chickens, and I never knew. Dear reader of mine, we live, we hump bags of potting compost into the gardens of neighbours who for twenty years we have briefly and rather disinterestedly passed a little time and the odd occasional politeness, and we then learn so much.

Chickens. I’ve got Herring Gulls, tits, finches and slow-worms. And a small tree called Olive.

Fuerteventura

So, it’s nearly three months since we got back from our week in the winter sun.

I keep checking out the place where we stayed on tripadvisor. It shocks me that so many people, few of them from this end of the country, I’m relieved to discover, are impressed by grubby unswept rooms, basic factory canteen quality food with menu choices that get predictable on day two of seven, and a town on a Spanish island with nothing Spanish about it other than the language. And we won’t even mention the bar which doubled as the children’s entertainment centre. Oh, we mentioned it. It was the only bar there. You want an evening drink whilst a group of gobby parents are cheering on their vile children in a dance off at ten in the evening while the Birdy Song’s blasting at 110 dB? It wasn’t my idea of entertainment. It shocks me even more that there are people from places like Derbyshire and Yorkshire who go back two or three times a year for fifteen, or twenty years.

I’m committed to cutting down on the swearing but Fuck! how bad are these people’s lives, how shite is their everyday diet, that they are happy to pay good money to go to places like that and then post four or five star reviews for the world to see? It wasn’t that it was a bad hotel, it simply wasn’t very good. I doubt that we’ll go all inclusive anywhere ever again.

The fear. One morning at breakfast they temporarily ran out of the admittedly tasty bacon substitute, which I enjoyed every morning draped over a couple of churros with grilled tomatoes on the side and a heap of scrambled eggs. The continental choices just didn’t look appetising. And breakfast was the only hotel meal I looked forward to. I was stuck next to an obese tattooed Scotsman, who turned to me and hissed “ae gwannae tsset a doowaen awe waaart!” through a spittle flecked gap in the row of black stubs which passed for teeth. I couldn’t tell if it meant he was about to slaughter me or simply maim me in a horrible fashion in revenge for having teeth which weren’t ruined.

He kind of smiled as he said it, I didn’t have a clue what he meant but I nearly shit my pants when his equally obese but thankfully slightly more hairy wife came up and started talking to him and spraying spittle over me. I think she was talking to him anyway. Her eyes weren’t both looking in the same direction. What did they want? I was never to know, for the ersatz bacon appeared then, so I took my chance and grabbed some and ran back to my table, hoping never tae see my new acquaintances again.

Other than the crushing disappointment of a holiday almost wasted, life is good. I suppose it wasn’t really so bad after all, we explored round the island and parts were beautiful. And we found a lovely Portuguese restaurant in town, for the evenings when we really couldn’t face looking at more trays of chicken in sauce, fish in sauce or beef in sauce. Or the people who were grateful to eat it. Yes, it was the food that did it.

 

Funny how the time goes.

I haven’t been here for a couple of months. Every time I have something to write about, someone I know and love goes and dies, or gets admitted to hospital, and the time just goes by in a meaningless blur of hospital visits, funerals and gloomy evenings wondering who’ll be next.

The funeral I went to this week was that of a dear friend K who I’ve known since I was eight years old, she worked in the corner shop, I went to school with two of her children, and then she worked in my shop for twenty years. Almost like a second mum, she was. When she mentioned the possibility of her putative retirement a few years ago, I jokingly persuaded her to stay with me, on the grounds that a funeral wreath would a far more economical proposition for me than a retirement do. And so it came to be. It was so sad. Lots of tearful hugs with her husband, son, beautiful daughters and granddaughters, who’ve come to feel like my own family.

Another friend who died a month ago or so was an ex-Kriegsmarine and Hitlerjugend member, G., who came to live in England as a POW in 1945 after slipping out of the Russians’ grasp in the Baltic theatre and throwing himself at the Royal Navy. We had many interesting convos, and I always grabbed some photos of Eastern European cities for him on my travels, as requested by him as souveniers of places he’d passed through in  the 1940s. His widow came in to see me last week, thanked me for being a friend to G and then told me she has had to start having counselling because of some old photos and documents of his that she’d found. She wouldn’t go into any detail, but I know that G had maintained some old associations with a few of his military  comrades. Maybe something to do with that.

One thing  that all this death and the associated ceremonies has decided for me is that I will not have any hymns mumbled and mouthed at my funeral whenever that happy occasion comes. Nobody seems to know any of the old hymns anymore, I suppose because they’re probably deemed to be inappropriate in schools and the churches are doing their best to alienate people. So at mine, I’ll have a mixtape prepared, they can listen, they can bop, they can tap their feet and hum along. But no-one will be obliged to pretend to sing songs that they don’t know.

Mathew the Fretful came into the shop the day after K’s funeral. He apologised for his absence.

‘But Mathew, fret not, you hardly knew her. You’d have known nobody else there apart from me and the girls from the shop, and I think I can safely say that we’d have been fucked if any of us were going to be holding your hand and pointing out the grieving relatives for you all fucking day’. I said. Or words to that effect.

‘But I would have liked to have gone. I didn’t sleep the night before, so I felt dreadful’. He sighed.

‘Ah, Mathew, I didn’t realise that you knew her that well or that her loss would affect you so. Sorry.’ I felt almost guilty.

‘No, it’s not that. My little cat wanted to spend the night coming and going, and she hasn’t worked out how to use the catflap yet, and I don’t like to prop it open because it might get windy and blow the boiler out, so I sat up all night to let her in and out. All night. I’m still tired now.’

This is the man who takes a fifteen mile train journey once a month to a particular shop as recommended by the vet, to buy special cat biscuits which relieve the cat’s symptoms of interstitial cystitis. How the fuck do you know that your cat’s got cystitis? I find this very concerning. But I’ll not fret on it, nor lose a night’s sleep.

So that’s life at the moment. I go on my bicycle rides every couple of nights, with only seventy three miles to go to reach my target of a thousand for the year. My but it’s blustery and chill going along the coast on these November evenings.

I recently booked a weeks holiday for myself and my lovely wife Juanita for February. Fuerteventura. Never been there before. It’s my first ever all-inclusive holiday, and after booking it I was reading some reviews. Arse about visage as usual. There were mentions of entertainment. As in laid on entertainment. I screwed my face up. I turned to Juanita.

“It says here there’s Entertainment. I’m not going to get involved in Entertainment. I don’t go on holiday for fucking Entertainment. I go for foreign food and to relax. And the other stuff of course, but Entertainment? What’s that all about?”

She fixed me with a look that could only be a particular expression of adoration.

“It’s a holiday. You don’t have to go to the entertainment. Just enjoy it.” She’s good at stating the blindingly obvious, is Juanita.

Black Fly is just starting, I love turning it up loud and the following track, So Sad, so I’m going to leave you now. Night night.

 

 

August

The month is nearly over, but I’ll tell you what’s happened so far.

I decided at the end of July that I needed to purge my soul by buggering off by myself for a week, so I booked a cheap last minute week on Rhodes for the second week of August. Go me. As I finished sorting out the details, my sister called to tell me that we’d lost yet another relative to cancer. This time it was our cousin, a beautiful girl a year older than me, who we’d grown up with in North London in the sixties, and then when we moved down here to the coast, she and our aunt used to come and spend long summer holidays with us. We had very happy times and some of my best memories of childhood feature the stuff we all used to get up to. So the evil one has taken another of us.

It’s a bit of a theme this year. In January we had a week in Prague and I had a text while there that a cousin up in Liverpool had died of a brain tumour, then in Prague again in April and I heard my uncle had died of leukaemia, and when I was on my way to Corfu in June my sister messaged that Jane our cousin had taken a turn for the worse, and as I sort out my trip to Rhodes I hear that she’s gone. Why is my holiday schedule thinning out my family so thoroughly I wonder?

So, it was in a somewhat sombre mood that I took off for a week in the sun. It was a good week though, in a wee little fishing village that goes by the name of Stegna, on the North East coast of the island, a couple of miles up the road from the lovely little village of Haraki where I stayed last year. I was the only person staying in a small block of studio apartments next door to a seafood taverna which was hidden twenty paces up a side alley from the seafront. Most days were spent to a routine of morning and evening swimming and lounging sessions on the beach, a couple of hours at a time, interspersed with idle strolls along the length of the ville. Occasionally I would wander out into the hinterlands of the village, but really couldn’t be arsed to go on any longer treks.

There was one morning bus a day to Rhodes town, which I caught one day, and had a good day in the capital, visiting the street of the Knights and then wandering the still ancient and dusty echoing streets of La Juderia to find myself in the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, where I sat wearing my little white silk kippah hoping to look devout, and then visited the museum in the old womens’ prayer rooms. then I returned to the Nea Agora to indulge in some of the food and drink that I find so irresistible. I bought Anita a lovely silver and blue opal necklace there. I had a swim in the sea as soon as I got back to Stegna that day too. I mostly lived on seafood of all description – molluscs, bivalves and scaled vertebrates, Mythos beer and fruit juice. The odd bit of meat crept into my diet, along with the gorgeous grilled Mediterranean vegetables. One thing I particularly liked about the village was the fact that I didn’t hear any English voices there, other than on two or three occasions. It’s a destination mostly for Greeks, pert Italians seeking all-over tans and long limbed Germans.

The evening before my return home saw the peak of the Perseid meteorite shower so I spent a couple of hours on the roof terrace with a bottle of Mythos or two, stretched out on a couple of creaking wicker chairs, enjoying the spectacle of shooting stars hurtling through the clear black skies, some simple white streaks, and some fizzing big ones, trailing showers of golden and silver sparks in their wake but all doomed to extinction fifty miles up. I had lovely night flights to Rhodes and back but one of the good things about solo holidays is that sometimes you get two or three seats to yourself on the plane and I was lucky enough for that to happen both ways, so was able to stretch out and get some facsimile of a doze. The plane flew through a thunderstorm over the channel, so I was happy to land back at dear old Gatwick, even though all was grey and damp after the heat and shimmering light of the Aegean. Here’s to next year.

Then yesterday it was Jane’s funeral, in a rain soaked village which looked like it had been lifted from a picture postcard  showing some rural idyll in 1935, but was actually near Winchester in 2015. I went with my sister and one of my brothers. We were struck but hardly surprised by how many friends our cousin had, and also by how few of our family are left alive on my mum’s side. I met one of few remaining cousins on the distaff side for the first time in fifty years. Last time we met I was a scrawny five or six year old and he was a tall gangly beanpole, just about to start secondary school. Now he’s turned into my grandad who died in 1972. Lots of love shone through all the tears and it was a sad but very fond farewell to a beautiful person.

It will be September soon.

Wilf’s Funeral

One of my uncles was cremated yesterday. He was dead. Leukemia. My sister told me the news when I was in Prague the other week; the text took eleven hours to come to my phone. Bad news travels slowly.

These are the main occasions for family gatherings now, as my parents’ immediate families are all getting well into their seventies and eighties. Still it’s always nice to catch up with the innumerable uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces and various other clan members, see who’s had more children, who’s living where, who’s likely to be next. You know.

I went with my cousin Shazza and her parents, one of my dad’s many brothers and his wife. We went in convoy with Shazza’s husband and a large part of the South Wales branch of the family following us. Those of us in our faction met up at a Garden Centre cafe atop a bleak hill overlooking the channel on one side and the municipal burial grounds on the other. It was race day too, so the tang of horse sweat and bookies’ aftershave scented the late morning air.

Family bonds were confirmed over coffee and tea, new family members welcomed and old friendships rekindled. After half an hour or so we made our way down the hill to the crematorium and gathered outside, meeting up with the rest of the family. Hundreds of us. Friends too. Uncle Wilf, as the celebrant was later to admit in the course of his elegy, wasn’t the most devoted husband or father in the world, and saw more of his drinking pals than he did his children, all of whom were there. Mags, the divorced widow was there too, but she was always part of the family landscape long before they married, and to many of us is as good as a blood relative anyway.

The bulk of his drinking pals were there too, along with Gus & Hazel, the landlord and landlady of his local, who could well have been the saddest to see him go, for reasons of their own. Wandering around the clientele of the Albino Stag, shaking hands, hugging and cracking jokes of long familiarity as seemed appropriate to each I was asked by a few nervous looking locals if ‘my girl’ was going to attend. No, she wasn’t. ‘My girl’, my oldest daughter, is in the police, and a few outstanding warrants could have been executed if she’d been there, was the worry, I think. She never mixes business with grief or pleasure though, my girl.

When we trooped into the chapel I Have a Dream by ABBA was playing. I think ABBA songs should be mandatory at funerals, personally. It was a humanist ceremony. Auntie Mags sat facing the coffin red faced and slightly tearful, and we all chuckled as Wilf was described quite accurately as, among other things, a human disaster area. His life was nicely precised in thirty minutes, enlivened by two Queen songs, which I don’t care much for, but it was Wilf’s funeral not mine so I’m not about to complain.

My dad was desperate for a pee towards the end, so I escorted him out to the lavs out the back. Then I had to turn all the taps on because he was howling that he couldn’t go after all. It worked.

Then we went back to the pub for a drink. All good. Bye Wilf.

Praha the third

So we went to Prague again last week. Because it’s there. Because it’s only a short flight away. Because I just have to get away sometimes.

We spent some time wandering over to Letna park and climbed the hill to the metronome, and sat around on a bench, enjoying the Spring sunshine and a cold beer. Then we crossed back over the Vltava and I had a huge kolbasa in a roll at the Old Town Square. And a drink. Then in the afternoon we went over to Wenceslas Square to do a bit of shopping. Among other things I am now the proud owner of a small kettle with a Continental plug attached. Imagine, dear reader, no longer will I have to waste a plug adapter on boiling water in her English travel kettle for one of Juanita’s interminable cups of tea when neither of us can be arsed to go down to hotel lobbies or tea stations for an in-room beverage. The luxury! The sophistication!

We sat in an open air cafe for strudel and cappuccinos, in the centre strip of Wenceslas Square and I was having eyes made at me and I was watching a street man getting threatened with a taser by a couple of young policemen. it was all happening around my little bubble of quiet and calm reserve.

When we went for dinner at the Devil’s restaurant that evening, I asked the waiter what the ‘Venison Mixture’ on the menu involved. “Oh, a little venison, a little wild boar, and a little rabbit”, he told me. So I ordered it, guessing it would be a casserole type dish swimming in rich meaty juices. After our soup starters, the main course was delivered to the table. Anita had a lovely stroganoff. On my plate was a portion sized venison steak, two slabs of tender, melting roast wild boar, and the rear quarter of a roasted rabbit. Plus a mound of roasted potatoes. “Do they want me to die huge?” I wondered, as I tucked in. I had no intention, nor even hope, of leaving an empty clean plate. Half an hour later the freshly bread wiped plate gleamed bare before me. Anita looked at me aghast. “You ate the lot. You ate the bloody lot. You bloody pig”. Strange, the terms of affection we use after a lifetime together. The bottle of Moravian Chardonnay helped it down.

On Sunday morning we took the metro out to Jiriho z Podebrad in Vinohrady. I can find it but I can’t say it in any way that a local would recognise it. I wanted to visit the church of the sacred heart there, and also to go up to the observation deck on the television tower. The church is a huge brick built cavern from the early thirties with a massive cubist clocktower in the shape of a modernist gravestone, and it was full to bursting with eager communion takers. In the most atheist country in Europe. There’s a thing. I sat a while and admired the decor and the timber bracing of the ceiling far above. I’m sensitive like that. Anita waited outside on a bench by a small stone fountain in the warm sunshine.

Then we walked together up Milesovska into Zizkov and ascended to the observation deck of the tower and spent an hour or so in the pods three hundred feet above the ground. The views are worth the journey. There’s a one-room hotel in the tower, on the next level up, along with a restaurant and bar. We had a cappuccino in the cafe, then after a stroll around the neighbourhood, took the metro back into town and had our ritual arm in arm stroll over the Charles Bridge and around Mala Strana and Hradcany. Bit of shopping, stopping for a drink, the time goes by.

That afternoon Juanita stayed in the hotel while I went for a long walk to the Palackeno bridge, crossed over to Smichov in the West and walked back along the riverside to Charles bridge and back to the hotel by a long winded route. Just to soak up the local vibes.

Back at the hotel I felt a little hungry so we decided to go to the Town Square for a chicken skewer. On the way, along Hartmanska as we passed a pub, I smelt the most wonderful smell as a waiter brought out a platter of kolbasa, bread, raw onions, gherkins and mustards and horseradish to a man sitting at an outside table.

“Do you know what I’m thinking?” I asked my wife. She sighed and shrugged. “I was watching your face when you saw that food. Have that, then we won’t need a big dinner tonight” she said more in hope than with any sense of reality. So we sat at the pavement table which was not occupied and each had the platter, laughingly listed on the menu as a “Sausage Snack” with a large delicious beer each. It’s what makes life worth living. We eventually made our way to the Town Square and spent an hour or so watching people. Then we sat outside the Bethlehem Chapel and had ice cream cones while not thinking about Jan Hus.

Five years ago on our first visit to Prague we ate at a restaurant called the Stoleti. Seven hours after our pavement snack we found ourselves in the Stoleti again. As is my habit, I’ll tell you what we had. I had a beef broth followed by pork in a pepper sauce with creamy smooth mashed potatoes, and Anita started with baked Camembert with cranberries and went on to have a steak stuffed with feta, accompanied by celeriac in cheese sauce. We had a dish of grilled vegetables to share. We had a bottle of czech wine too. Then she had a dish of straciatella ice cream with caramel sauce and nuts while I had a whipped cream cold rice pudding with chopped fruit and apricot sauce. Then coffee.

Last proper meal till Tuesday, I joked.

We flew home on Monday evening, but as the hotel was fully booked we weren’t able to keep the room on past eleven o’clock Monday morning so we lodged our suitcase in the luggage room and went for a walk up to the castle to watch the changing of the guard. There was a cafe at the castle, where I had potato pancakes topped with sauerkraut and sliced sausage. And a beer. When we got back to the hotel Anita decided she was going to sit out the rest of the day in the lobby. I went on a Cerny hunt.

I’ve now seen the Hanging Sigmund Freud and stood beneath him, the Revolving Head of Franz Kafka, and watched in awe as the light glitters and changes, seen the giant Faceless Babies, both climbing the tower and in the park by the river, where I rested my hands on the huge icy cold metal butt-ocks, and stood by the Two Naked Men Peeing into the Czech Shaped Pool. So far so good, so much still to see. David Cerny has a fascinating mind. I wouldn’t want to sleep with him though.

scorched

As I was making my way along the footpath to the doctors’ surgery I looked up and saw the loony rubbish man ahead of me, beating wantonly on the large pad which opens the door for the armless and the terminally lazy. At the sound of my derision snorting all over the bright Spring morning he turned, saw me and scowled.

I call him the loony rubbish man not because I believe him to be inadequate as a man, or because his refuse is deranged, mentally like. No. It’s because he has made it his life’s mission to pick up what he thinks of as rubbish from places he thinks of as wild and beautiful, and collect it into large collections, then dispose of it in strange places. Occasionally, very occasionally, he will find his way to the recycling yard behind the community centre, and after putting the rubbish into the correct receptacles as indicated by the very clear signs, he will then fill his bags for life from said receptacles and take the new selection of recyclables elsewhere. And on and on it goes, with innocent litter condemned to an eternity of movement in a lunatic cycle of confusion and despair.

My grief with the LRM is directly related to the fact that one of his preferred methods of rubbish collection is to storm into local eateries, such as mine, and swoop on unsuspecting and previously happy customers, demanding that they hand over foil pie cases, offering to remove half drunk coffees and teas, and generally being the type of chap who you’d be happy to see tumbling head over heels over the nearby cliff-edge, to be dashed to a supposedly premature end on the chalkbeds below.

So because of this, and also because he likes to stand by people as they’re sitting there eating and drinking, and lecturing them on the benefits of a diet consisting mainly of raw nutshells and vegetable twine , as far as I can follow his logic, I’ve banned him from my small high street retail bakery slash coffee shop. And not only that, if I see him approaching I immediately go outside and stand foursquare and sturdy in the doorway, intimidating him with a glare and a set of crossed arms. Until the fucker passes. And if I have customers sitting at the outdoor tables, I prowl meaningfully and menacingly just to let him know that I have not forgotten and I will still not let him pass. Reader, my bite is savage but my bark can be, although somewhat camp at times, worse. Grrr!

The beast beat one more time on the spazzer pad and the door reluctantly opened for him. The ragged and grimy ends of his sleeves hung over his even grimier and ragged hands as though his arms were longer than his legs and his hands had fallen victim to some horrible disease which had made them drop off. Probably just as he flushed, so they were lost forever.

Funnily enough, by the time I’d tried and failed to register my arrival at the touch screen thing which is an innovation at the surgery, then gone to the desk and checked in with little Laura manually, so to speak, the LRM was nowhere to be seen. Crouching behind a chair, scraping potentially recyclable dried body fluids out of the hard wearing contract carpet most likely. I drove him from my mind and seeing Scottish Jackie, went over and sat with her, chatting about our gardens and stuff until I was called to consulting room five.

I don’t often go to the doctor. There’s no point, usually, as I am rampantly hearty, healthy and hale as a matter of principle. But I’ve got this scabby bit of itchy dry skin on the edge of my ear which always tingles in the sun and it goes all dry and flaky at random intervals.

So after convincing myself that I’d scorched a fatal amount of cancer into my ear by my free and easy ways with the Mediterranean sun, and getting as far as making a pretty damned cohesive plan for my imminent funeral event, and sorting out this year’s travel insurance policy while I could still honestly say that I wasn’t suffering from or being investigated for any terminal condition, I thought I’d better ask the doctor to confirm the diagnosis.

Have you ever heard of Natalie Prass? I’m listening to her self titled cd right now. It’s lovely. My baby don’t understand me. Indeed.

The doctor took a look at my ear, fingered my lobe and ran his tip around the rim. I wondered if this meant we should get engaged. I smiled coyly. He asked about my sun exposure habits. I told him.  He nodded. He told me that I have an actinic keratosis. Not just any old keratosis, but the full fucking works, the actinic one. He told me to moisturise it and keep it well protected from UV rays and all should be well. I was a mess, all relief and vague disappointment banging and shouting together in a small room with a screaming  spoiled infant thrown into the mix. No funeral soon then.

Then he decided that I needed a bit of a going over as my last visit was back in 2004. He told me that my blood pressure of 163 over 110 is not a good thing, but I told him that I like high numbers. He told me I’ve got to go back for a thorough check up and to submit myself to an ambulatory six hour monitoring session and in the meantime to keep up my current level of excercise and stick as close as possible to a Mediterranean diet.

Mmmm, kebabs, said I.