Category Archives: Czech Republic

In Prague, Lynn Ruth Miller, 84, re-evaluates why people become comics

Just over a month ago, I posted a blog about UK-based US comic Lynn Ruth Miller’s extraordinary up-coming world travels. Later this week, she is off for seven days work in Dublin.

She has just returned from nine days performing in the Czech Republic. This is (part of) what happened there.


I arrived in Prague and within minutes I had demolished a bottle of wine. It seems the city is fuelled on alcohol and dumplings… but who am I to judge?

My first comedy show was in Brno. 

Lynn Ruth Miller performed at the Velvet Comedy in Brno

I stayed the night in a huge apartment that automatically turned on lights whenever I stepped into the room and was filled with encouraging English sayings, like: You are what you want to beLife is for living… and Please do not put anything other than you know what in our toilets.

The city is filled with ex-pats who have come here to live because the cost of living is low, the people are friendly and the preponderance of alcohol soothes the ruffled mind. These people use beer to jump-start the day.

We returned to Prague the next day. I stayed in a very retro flat with all kinds of old-fashioned furniture and one ton of mosquitoes and spiders. I felt like a pin-cushion and scratched in very embarrassing places. 

The comedy show was at a hostel and the audience was thirsty for a laugh and Czech beer. The accepted routine is a large mug of local beer with a whisky chaser and two dumplings to line the tummy. The audience was from every corner of the globe including a former teacher from Boston who had taught in LA, Okinawa, then moved to Mexico, then Prague and now makes jewelry and does improv; a Japanese comedian from Tokyo; and a guy from Manchester who was the only one who got my jokes.

The next day I tried my hand at teaching a comedy workshop to five eager would-be comedians. I realized once again that people have to have a sense of funny and, if they do not, no matter what they say, it won’t get a laugh.

I learned a couple things about would-be comics however. They will fight to the finish to keep a bad joke. They cannot understand the concept of set-up > punch. It is more long diatribe and feeble ha-ha. And, if one friend laughed at one of their jokes once, they think it is sure to become a classic. I knocked off a bottle of wine and – believe me – I needed it.

After dinner, we went to a tapas place with the woman from LA who lived in Okinawa and Mexico and is now a Czech citizen. She has lived in Prague for 15 years and still cannot speak Czech. I am told it is the most difficult language in the world and it seems to ignore vowels. Another bottle of wine down the hatch and the evening was very sparkly… or what I remember of it.

An insight into the Czech sex psyche

We talked about the Czech attitude toward sex and equality. It seems women have always had to work and are on an equal basis with men when it comes to salary and promotion. The MeToo movement doesn’t really make sense to these people, mainly because Czech men do not come on to women.

I cannot figure out whether they do not make the first move because they are ashamed of their bodies or because they have no vowels.

Porn is a way of life here. It is their substitute for not getting any. They all watch it and that is why Czech people think they have excellent technique when in reality you have to be an accomplished gymnast to do what you see on film. I have given up the idea of finding a Czech lover. It is far too risky. I have osteoporosis.

My second comedy workshop was in a café. Four of my students showed up and I heard their attempts at a five minute set which was horrifying. We all worked together to try to help each other tighten up the diatribes they had created and I hope I am not deceiving myself when I say I think we made progress.

This has made me evaluate why people become stand-ups. I am convinced we are all misfits who have never been able to make ourselves heard in conventional areas of life. Humor is a great facilitators and when we manage to make our buddies laugh we think: “Well, I’ve fucked-up everything else, maybe my real talent is doing stand up.”

It never occurs to people that stand-up is an art and has to be continually revised and re-evaluated to be effective.

I suspect that is why so many people start off in this very challenging and demanding career like an atomic explosion and then peter-out when they realize that getting laughs involves work.

The reality is that finding venues to PUT those laughs in is a boring grind. I was talking to one very enthusiastic new comedian who said: “It is the journey I love, even more than the success.”

Hopefully she will not mind the pitfalls, roadblocks and road crashes. Those of us who stick to it are bruised, wounded warriors. For me, at least, it has been well worth it.

When I listened to my students in this second session, two of them got what I thought we were after. The other two were determined to pontificate about racism and sexual misdirection without giving us anything to even smile about. 

There is a lack of coq in Prague

I spent Sunday eating Belgian food (a coq au vin that was a lot more vin than coq) and drinking copiously as they do here and then going to The Jazz Club Reduta to listen to a lot of music I danced to in the forties in Toledo, Ohio.

That involved a few more bottles of wine, several beers (each one different of course and arriving in a different shaped glass) and a couple of whiskeys – so I cannot remember many details of the day, just a warm fuzzy feeling and muddled brain.

Czech Cafes are always especially charming with flowers on the table and very clean toilets. (Obviously, when you are my age, this is a determining factor.)

They eat a lot of pastry evidently and do not seem to gain weight… but the alcohol I consumed might have blurred my vision.

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Six days in March: mafiosi in Prague, war in Serbia, Yanks in Amsterdam and a flying saucer in the Thames Valley

I have no time to transcribe the blog I should be writing today so, as always in such cases, you get a copy-and-paste from my e-diary – in this case, starting today 16 years ago in 1999


MONDAY 22nd MARCH 1999 – AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

There are precipitous stairs up to my new hotel. This, as with other houses in Amsterdam, is because there are two storeys below the two-storey hotel and people live vertically because, at one time, house tax was based on the width of your house so everything was built narrow.

The hotel is run by two thin gay men, probably in their late-40s or mid-50s, heavily wrinkled like white prunes.

The room has a brown carpet, pink bedsheets and bedspread; high light green walls with horizontal hanging ivy atop one of them. When trams pass, there is a thunderous rattling through the tall, single-glazed window. I think I may move soon.

TUESDAY 23rd MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with the Englishman who runs the TV station where I am freelancing. We previously worked together at TV stations in Prague in 1994 and 1995. He says Prague has changed since I was there; the various foreign mafias have taken over large sections of society; it started, he says, with the privatisation of taxis. The TV operation we both worked for in Prague was sold (at a loss) by UIH to Time-Warner last week; but, in return, UIH got Time-Warner cable interests in Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Eastern Europe has become the new Wild West.

WEDNESDAY 24th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with three workmates. One of them observed that the Dutch give a bad time to Germans – shop assistants are coldly difficult to them in shops etc – because of the Second World War. As we ate, NATO planes and cruise missiles were starting to attack Yugoslavia/Serbia/Montenegro/Kosovo.

THURSDAY 25th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

In McDonalds, the assistant was giving a hard, contemptuous time to a well-dressed family of Russians who spoke very bad English.

FRIDAY 26th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

At breakfast in the hotel, there was an American couple: he was wide and tall like some American Football player, she was much smaller and much younger. The TV was tuned to BBC1 News. The American couple had missed the start of the bombing of Serbia, presumably because they were travelling around. Their abbreviated conversation went:

Him: “What’s going on?”

Me: “NATO has started bombing Serbia.”

Her: “What’s NATO?”

Him: “North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It’s…what is it?…The big six?” (LOOKS AT ME)

Me: (CONFUSED)

Her: “I thought that was just a trade organisation.”

Him: “No, it does some policing, too.”

At Schiphol Airport in the evening, there was a group of very jolly people in their 20s – about a dozen – on the travelator in front of me. It turned out they were going to my Gate. And they were drunk – amiable, jolly and drunk. It came as no surprise they were travelling on Finnair to Helsinki as the only times I had encountered Finns before – in Leningrad in 1985 – they were all amiable, jolly and staggeringly drunk. Something to do with the strict drink laws in Finland: at that time, Finns came across to Leningrad, sold denim jeans and Western goods to Russians and got very charmingly drunk on vodka.

My friend Lynn’s partner Frank had asked me to get him some schnapps at the airport duty free – stuff you can only get in Schiphol. It comes in an opaque brown bottle. I couldn’t see it, so I asked a man who was stacking the drinks shelves: “Do you have any schnapps?”

Inevitably, I was standing right by the schnapps: he pointed to two different brands, both in white bottles.

“I was asked to get some schnapps in a brown bottle,” I said: “Do you have any in a brown bottle?”

He looked at me as if I was mad, almost shrinking backwards, and replied:

“No, we do not have schnapps in a brown bottle.”

The EasyJet plane to Luton took off two hours late because:

a) the incoming plane broke down in Luton and
b) they had to fly a replacement plane into Amsterdam and
c) they said: “Air traffic over Western Europe has been disrupted by NATO”

I suppose squadrons of giant B-52 bombers taking off from Gloucestershire and flying to Serbia would do that.

SATURDAY 27th MARCH – BOREHAMWOOD

John Ward drives home in his Wardmobile

John Ward driving to his home in his self-made Wardmobile

My chum mad inventor John Ward has built a flying saucer. Today, with his son, he was collecting it from a garage in Weybridge then coming round to collect some stuff from me on his way home to Northamptonshire.

On the way to me, he was stopped by a Thames Valley police car with flashing lights and siren. Inside was a Sergeant Whittaker.

“What do you think you are doing?” asked Sergeant Whittaker.

He told John they had looked at their cameras and seen John and his son driving along the road in their car pulling an object brightly painted in fluorescent orange, red, yellow and blue.

“You are a distraction,” Sergeant Whittaker told John.

“Thankyou,” said John.

“Don’t be flippant,” Sergeant Whittaker warned him.

Sergeant Whittaker then appeared to flounder around trying to find something on which to arrest John.

“Have you got a licence for that?” Sergeant Whittaker asked, pointing at the flying saucer.

“It’s a trailer,” John replied.

“It has a seat in it,” observed Sergeant Whittaker.

“Ah,” said John, “But it has no engine in it: so it is legally a trailer.”

John Ward knows about these things.

At this point, an old man on a motorcycle passed by and was so amazed by the flying saucer and the police car with the flashing lights that he lost control of his motorcycle, hit the central barrier and fell off.

“Look!” Sergeant Whittaker told John. “He was distracted by your… your… thing!”

“No,” argued John. “It’s all your flashing red and blue and white lights distracted him.”

Sergeant Whittaker said accusingly: “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? We could have arranged a police escort.”

“You’re joking,” said John.

“No I’m not…..Where are you going with it?”

“I’m dropping in at a friend’s in Borehamwood to collect some stuff, then taking it home.”

“Oh no you’re not. You’re a distraction. You’re taking it straight home.”

At this point, John phoned me on his mobile.

“Are you phoning the press?” the sergeant asked.

“Not yet,” said John.

“I know you from somewhere,” Sergeant Whittaker said. “Have I seen you on television?”

“No, I’m not him,” said John. “Reg, the bloke with the glasses in Coronation Street. People sometimes confuse me for him. But I’m not him.”

“No, you’re not him,” agreed Sergeant Whittaker, “but I think I’ve seen you somewhere.”

Eventually, Sergeant Whittaker got in John’s car and his policeman mate drove the police car. They set off in convoy, lights flashing and escorted John’s flying saucer to the border of the next police area – where a Buckinghamshire police car took over.

“Is that it?” the Buckinghamshire policeman asked when he saw the flying saucer. He had obviously been expecting something like a vast over-hanging mobile home on a pantechnicon.

When the Buckinghamshire police car reached the borders of Northamptonshire, there was a Northamptonshire police car waiting for them.

“Oh,” the Northamptonshire policeman said on seeing John, “It’s you.”

“Have we met?” John asked him.

“No,” said the Northamptonshire policeman.

When the other car had gone, the Northamptonshire policeman told John: “They’re mad down south. It’s a waste of time. They should be out catching criminals. I’m going back to the station.”

And off he went.

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Filed under Czech Republic, Eccentrics, Holland, Police, Yugoslavia

At the Edinburgh Fringe, it is perfectly normal for women to wear nothing below the waist: it is cucumber season

Steve Ullathorne, photographer to the stars, outside the Gilded Balloon yesterday

Steve Ullathorne (right), photographer to the stars, doorstepped outside the Gilded Balloon yesterday

I arrived at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday to find it unchanged.

Going into the Gilded Balloon venue press party, I passed a young man who was wailing: “I just got wine on my phone! I just got wine on my phone!”

Inside the Gilded Balloon, comedian Maureen Younger, who was going in to see Janey Godley’s show Janey Godley Is Ungagged, told me people keep coming up to her in the street because they mistake her for either Janey Godley or Karen Dunbar – both of whom have Scots accents – despite the fact Maureen looks nothing like either and has an English accent.

Maureen Younger yesterday - or is it Janey Godley?

Maureen Younger – or is it Janey Godley?

On the other hand, Maureen’s own show The Outsider is about how she became the only London-Scottish, Austrian-accented German-speaking, black lesbian on the UK comedy circuit, despite being white, straight and British.

At the Gilded Balloon party, I also bumped into New York comic Laura Levites, still jet-lagged, who told me she had finished re-writing her show Selfhelpless eight minutes before her first performance yesterday, which turned out to be a good idea, as Kate Copstick (the Fringe’s most influential critic) came in to see that show.

Apparently Copstick liked it.

“What’s it about?” I asked Laura.

Laura Levites does not like puppet pigs

Laura Levites does not like puppet pigs at all

“What’s it always about?” she asked.

I can do no better than quote the blurb.

Life is shit. Drugs, shrinks, denial and the higher power of eBay haven’t helped. It took Laura three hours to get a new diagnosis – judge her in 60 minutes. ‘A straight-talking New Yorker with an upfront attitude’ (Scotsman). ‘Levites is both lovable and crazy’ **** (BroadwayBaby.com). If life were a cab it would first refuse to take her home and then hit her … wait … it just did! Laura almost let a creepy ex-neighbour photograph her in chains for this show. ‘Nuff said. Her dog needs vaginal rejuvenation. Lord knows what Laura needs.

What she did not need at the Gilded Balloon party yesterday was a rather scary pink pig puppet on the end of a man’s arm come up and try to sell his show to her while she was drinking.

Leaving by the pedestrian underpass outside the Pleasance Dome venue, I heard someone say: “He’s daubing graffiti with an invisible paintbrush,” and, indeed, a man was doing just that, while talking loudly to himself about the fact that the bees are being killed off by “them”.

But even I can be occasionally slightly surprised at the Fringe.

Adrienne Truscott and her one-woman bottomless show

Adrienne Truscott’s one-woman bottomless show

I have seen some topless comedy shows, but American performer Adrienne Truscott’s show is the first time I have seen a female comic’s show performed bottomless.

Her show was an eye-opener in that I now know the projected faces of several pop stars look even weirder with a lady’s pubic hair added to their chin. Her show is called  Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else! 

As someone said to me afterwards, it seems perfectly normal, at the Edinburgh Fringe, for a performer to wear nothing below the waist.

Bob’s Bookshop bar - where everything costs £3

Bob Slayer’s new Bookshop bar – with Cat the lovely manager

The show took place in Bob’s Bookshop – a new venue run by comic Bob Slayer which unsurprisingly (for those who know Bob) has a public bar selling beers and sundry other drinks.

Before and after Adrienne’s show, I was chatting to comedian Ian Cognito. He was wearing a hat. He said he had a song about the late Malcolm Hardee. I invited him to perform it at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe. He said Yes.

The last time I saw Ian Cognito was when he, Jenny Eclair and I shared a funeral car at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral at Greenwich in 2005 – an event that was ‘reviewed’ by the Daily Telegraph with the words “Rarely can there have been so much laughter and irreverence at a funeral service and rarely can it have been more appropriate”.

Ian Cognito and Pam Ford at Bob’s Bookshop last night

Ian Cognito and Pam Ford (holding up the wall) last night

Last night, Cognito told comic Pam Ford and me a very funny series of stories about his own dad’s funeral and what happened to the ashes afterwards.

Alas, I don’t think I can repeat them, because I was harassing Cognito that he should do death stories as an Edinburgh Fringe show in 2014.

“You would make it funny, sad and odd,” I told him. “You should call it Four Funerals and a Funeral.”

He did not seem persuaded, but you never know.

When I got back to my Edinburgh flat, zonked, an e-mail was waiting for me from Alexander Frackleton, a Scot living in the Czech Republic, occasionally mentioned in this blog.

He told me: “Please gonnae no’ refer to me as an ex-pat. I hate ex-pats and avoid them like the plague cos they are always complaining about how things are not like Britain, America, Canada, Australia etc. And I’m not a comedian – and don’t want to be. Ye know that. I’m a Scots Poet in exile. Don’t look at me like that, yer a writer, ye can work with that idea.”

His real reason for writing, though was to tell me that a report he had spotted in yesterday’s Daily Mail online was not a wind-up.

“It is true,” he told me, “cos it was reported here in the Czech Republic a few days ago.”

Pastafarianism lives! - in the Czech Republic at least...

Pastafarianism lives! – in the jolly Czech Republic at least…

The report was about a Czech man who claims his religion forces him to wear a sieve on his head. He says his religion is ‘Pastafarianism’ and the authorities have now given him permission to wear a sieve on his head on his official Czech ID card picture.

Perhaps it is NOT just Edinburgh which is eccentric.

“Do ye know what the Czechs call the ‘silly season’?” Alex asked me. “They call it the cucumber season.”

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Filed under Comedy, Czech Republic, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour

9 things I did not blog about this week

There are always stories and incidents which do not fit comfortably in my normal daily blogs and get lost like tears in rain, as Rutger Hauer might say.

This week, amongst other things:

Mat Ricardo - the gentleman juggler of comedy

Mat Ricardo – the man with a potential TV show

ONE

I went to the last ever Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties show at the Leicester Square Theatre which started with the unbilled Heather Holliday walking on stage with a stick and a plate. She used the stick to spin the plate.

Fair enough.

Then an assistant came on stage with a sword and a hula hoop.

Heather replaced the stick with the sword, spinning the plate on the sword’s hilt, then dropped the sword’s blade down her upturned throat – while still spinning the plate – and started hula hooping.

And THAT was just the start of an extraordinary show.

It should be a TV series.

The Dark Room - could be bound to please

John Robertson & wife Jo wake in a dark garage

TWO

On the same night at Leicester Square Theatre, I saw John Robertson’s The Dark Room again – a preview for his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe run. An amazing show based on his 2012 YouTube hit.

John recently got married in a chicken shed in Australia – I blogged about it – and he and his lovely wife Jo have now re-located from Perth in Australia to Brighton in England. Until they go up to the Fringe, they are living in Jo’s sister’s garage in Brighton.

When they return from Edinburgh, more conventional accommodation has been arranged.

Escaped kangaroo’s Bohemian rhapsody

Escaped kangaroo’s Bohemian rhapsody

THREE

Meanwhile, in surprise news from the Czech Republic, Scots ex-pat Alexander Frackleton, who currently lives there, sent me an e-mail:

“A kangaroo is on the loose in northern Bohemia,” he told me. “It escaped from the backyard of its owner on Tuesday night near the north Bohemian town of Lovosice. The owner found a hole in the fence and realised his pet kangaroo was missing on Wednesday morning after being alerted by the police that a kangaroo had been spotted in nearby villages. Although a number of people are reported to have seen the kangaroo (named Joey), no-one has yet re-captured him and the owner has recruited a friend with a private helicopter to help him look for the marsupial.”

“Keep me up-to-date on this,” I begged him.

“The kangaroo is still on the loose,” he told me the next day, “But two weeks ago, there was a wild boar running around the 10th, 11th & 12th districts of Prague… It took police three hours to catch him and eight policemen to pin him down. There is never a dull moment in the Czech Republic.”

Alex tells me he is looking forward to meeting comedian and So it Goes blog regular Matt Roper in mid August, when he passes through Prague.

“I’m going to take him on an alternative sight-seeing trip,” Alex tells me, “by visiting places and things connected to the old regime – including The Tunnel of Intelligence, which was constructed by political prisoners of the communists during the 1950s. Stuff like that. There is also a museum of Totalitarianism which will probably be the first port of call.”

The same day, back in London:

John Park 3

This man knows too much about Hellfire Club

FOUR

I had tea with former Fringe Report editor John Park. We had an interesting discussion about the Bible, theology and Roman Catholicism and he told me about a gay whipping club just off Trafalgar Square, merely a short blood-stained crawl from Whitehall.

John has no interest in such things himself but he did know an unhealthy amount about Sir Francis Dashwood’s 18th century Hellfire Club which was held in the caves near High Wycombe.

I was able to tell him about the defence bunker at High Wycombe and the fact that the adorably wonderful but sadly being fast forgotten entertainer Marti Caine used to live there.

In High Wycombe, not in the bunker.

She once told me – truthfully – that she was perfectly happy just being a housewife and Hoovering the living room, but people kept phoning her up offering ludicrous amounts of money to do showbiz things. She was one of the sanest entertainers I ever met. And was dying from cancer. She died in 1995. So it goes.

Which brings us inevitably to:

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Malcolm Hardee with prized sock

FIVE

Malcolm Hardee, who drowned in 2005. So it goes.

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Malcolm and fellow comedian Ricky Grover breaking into a zoo and encountering a silverback gorilla. Comedian John Moloney has now told me a story from many years ago when he was up at the Edinburgh Fringe with Malcolm.

“I was lying in my bed one afternoon with a lovely lady,” John told me, “when Malcolm knocks on the bedroom door and comes in – naked of course, apart from his socks.

“He’s got a tenner in his hand and says to my lady friend, as he waves the tenner in the air: Oy Oy – Show us your tits.

“She says (as she flashes her tits): You can have this one for free.

“Malcolm turns on his heels and says: Oy Oy I’m off for a wank. Sublime.”

“It’s the wearing of the socks that makes that story,” I told John.

“There were wooden floors,” he explained, “so Malcolm didn’t want to get cold – He was always very practical about his masturbation.”

Candy Gigi at last night’s Pull The Other One

Cereal offender Candy Gigi – last night’s Pull The Other One

SIX

At last night’s Pull The Other One comedy club show in South East London, Martin Soan said to me: “I must tell you the story about Malcolm and the kangaroo.”

“Not another one,” I said.

“You haven’t heard this one,” said Martin.

“I meant Not another kangaroo,” I said.

Martin looked at me, ignored the comment, then told me The Greatest Show On Legs will be performing in Switzerland in December.

“Have you been there before?” I asked, as I know Martin hates flying.

“Yes,” he told me. “I drove there and, at the border, we were stopped and questioned by a very serious-looking Swiss Border Guard. I thought Oh Jesus, we’re in for trouble here! But what he told us was: You will have to wash the car before you can come into the country. They are very clean, the Swiss.

SEVEN

Clean but with an occasional taste for filthy things, Kate Copstick, legendary comedy reviewer for The Scotsman newspaper and a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge since they started, this week got an e-mail from comedy group Late Night Gimp Fight, drawing her attention to their scantily-clad video attempt on YouTube to curry favour with her. See it HERE

I can only dream of such honey traps and not involving other men.

Jon on the final Friday of the Emporium, Greenwich

Jon on final Friday at the Emporium, Greenwich

EIGHT

Yesterday was a sad day in South East London. The Emporium vintage clothes shop in Greenwich – which supplied Malcolm Hardee with many of his clothes – is closing tomorrow, though it will continue online.

Co-owner Jonathan Hale was arranging everything – the shop has been there for 27 years.

But Greenwich’s loss may be Hollywood’s gain, as Jon and partner Jacki Cook can now turn their attention more to their successful movie costume business.

Ricky Grover amid the glamour of South Mimms service station

Ricky Grover was originally to be on BBC TV’s Secret Killers

NINE

Good news, though, came in the form of a section of that chat I had with Ricky Grover a couple of days ago. It was in a section which I did not include in my previous blog.

I had read that he had been diagnosed with diabetes.

“There’s a two-hour BBC TV show coming on called Long Live Britain,” he told me. “It was originally called Secret Killers but they changed the title.

“They had three of us so-called celebrities.

“We done a couple of tests and it showed up that I had Type 2 diabetes and I had a bit of scarring (fibrosis) on me liver. But they’re reversible things. I’m not on any medication.”

“You don’t need injections for the diabetes?” I asked.

“No, that’s more Type One,” Ricky told me. “If you get anyone who’s middle-aged and overweight like me and you do tests… I’m only a little borderline over.”

“I had a BUPA test two years ago,” I told Ricky, “and they found I had the lungs of a 38-year-old. I had another BUPA test a couple of months ago and they said I had the lungs of a 39-year-old. The bad news is he wants them back. But enough about me.”

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Bouncing Czechs & Presidential pranks

(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)

Vladimir Franz - the face of Czech politics

Vladimir Franz – the tattooed face of Czech politics

I worked in Prague a few times, making promotions and press tapes for some start-up TV channels around 1995/1996.

It was only a few years after the Soviet empire crumbled and I thought Prague – and the Czech people – might be a bit grey and dour. It only took me about a week to re-appraise the situation, when I started to think of the country not as the Czech Republic but as Bohemia.

The Czechs are bohemians.

That is not 100% politically and geographically correct, but it is psychologically correct.

Certainly, when I was there, they liked their beer and they liked a party.

I should have realised this earlier because, before I actually worked in the Czech Republic, my sole experience of Czechs was bringing Ernő Rubik (inventor of Rubik’s cube) over to the UK for a couple of appearances on the anarchic children’s TV show Tiswas.

Erno was a very laid-back dude who liked jazz and wore corduroy trousers.

And THAT was under Soviet Communism.

I like the Czechs. They are generally sophisticated, cool and creative.

During my time there poet, playwright and former dissident Václav Havel was President. He had new uniforms for Prague Castle’s guards designed by the man who designed costumes for the movie Amadeus. He appointed glorious rock god Frank Zappa as ‘Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism‘ for the Czech Republic.

You have to like the Czechs.

But, like all relatively small countries (population 10.5 million) you have to accept the good (the capacity for eccentric decisions) with the bad (a possibility of corruption). In that sense, it is not unlike the Republic of Ireland.

Which brings me to the President of the Czech Republic.

In the UK, today’s Guardian newspaper carries a piece on Vladimir Franz, a tattooed-all-over opera composer, painter and professor at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts. He is running for President and, in this week’s Presidental election race, he has an estimated 11% support and is running third. He has been compared (because of his tattooed face) to “an exotic creature from Papua New Guinea”, has no political experience and admits he doesn’t know much about economics.

So, obviously, I asked former Scots comic Alex Frackleton (now living in the Czech Republic) for some background on current Czech politics.

“In the outside world,” he told me, “it is the year 2013 – but, alas, not here where, despite digital television and high-speed internet, it feels like we’re living in the middle ages, circa 1320.

“On New Year’s Day, the out-going president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus (known to me as ‘Cunty Baws’) announced a presidential pardon that would see the release of 7,000 prisoners from Czech jails and court proceedings. Among those released are a number of persons either convicted of or in the process of being prosecuted for multi-billion dollar frauds which took place during the privatization process of the 1990s. Purely coincidentally – and I hasten to add this is merely an observational point on my part – Václav Klaus was Prime Minister of the Czech Republic in the 1990s.

“I seem to be alone in assuming that this is merely a coincidence as every single person I know here is furious. Everyone is going mental. Even people who don’t normally care about politics are shouting their heads off.

“To date, 600 Mayors and 500 schools have taken down the President’s portrait in protest at the amnesty. The British equivalent would be removing a picture of the Queen, the Pope or Stephen Hawking …

“Cunty Baws is shouting about how the press/media/his enemies are blowing the whole thing out of proportion. This is the guy who, as a visiting President to a conference in Chile, was caught on camera stealing a pen.

“If he wanted to do something to mark his out-going-ness, he could easily have granted free heating to all pensioners during the three coldest months of the year.

“If ever there was a moment for another ’68 Prague Spring uprising or a real revolution to replace the velvet cushiness of ’89, then that moment ought to be now.”

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