Monday, 6 December 2010
Old Tramp is a bit quiet at the moment, not much to say for himself, he's a bit like that at times, but I thought you might like to see what we've been up to this past week or so.
First of all there was the lantern procession around the village finishing up with switching on the Christmas Tree lights.
Then there was Mikulas's annual visit, the Czech St. Nicholas, who comes once a year to check that the youngsters are behaving themselves. He brings his imps with him, who want to cart off any naughty kids in their sacks. However, after conferring with his attendant angel, Mikulas will inevitably let the kids off for another year on the promise of behaving themselves and reciting him a rhyme. Before they leave they hand out some goodies to the kids.
Sorry about the quality of these snaps, Tramp is no photographer and you can understand that Mikulas and Co. are not that happy about being photograhed.
Take a good look at that imp, there's a strange likeness to Tramp junior.
Bye for now. Keep warm.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
The 17th November is a public holiday here, it marks the day in 1989 when police violence to break up a student march sparked public protests which brought the end to 40 years of Communist totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia. It tends to get overlooked that it also marks the Nazi clampdown on student activities that day in 1939, when all institutes of higher education not instructing in German were closed and student leaders executed or sent to concentration camps. In fact it was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of these events that the student march in 1989 was organised in the first place.
Conversations at this time naturally turn to comparing life here before and after 1989. I am not qualified to fully contribute to these discussions having arrived here in 1993, but a recent such conversation turned to whether there is more freedom today and whether that is a good thing. As the damp soaked into me I pondered on what freedom is to me.
No freedom is limitless, the fences that limit our freedoms may be way over on the horizon or close up to us but we should know that they are there, look after them and shift them as necessary if we can, sometimes dramatically, but we can't just destroy them. We want "freedom from" when we define where we don't want to be: freedom from fear, responsibilty, problems of any sort. Respite from these might be desirable but fencing these out of lives completely excludes other things that constitute a worthwhile life. We want "freedom to" or "freedom of" to define where we want to be: freedom to travel, freedom of speech. How many people use the freedom to travel, really want to travel, put up their own unnecessary boundaries to this freedom? The limits to my freedom of speech should be way over on the horizon, but I should accept that it is wise to consider what I say where, when and to who.
Freedoms should be limited but the fences must be well-maintained.
Saturday, 13 November 2010
Our bus arrives and we shuffle on; I slump into one of the vacant places halfway down and as we pull away I feel a reaction in my throat to the overwarm, overdry atmosphere in here. We leave town and the bus accelerates to a resonating rattle then slows and rolls its way over a railway crossing. We increase speed again and cut frightenly close to thin spiny trees that form the edge of the forest here.
In the next village the doors hiss open to imbibe a group of school-bound teenagers. A nervous disproportioned youth sits next to me; tall and thin his enormous feet accentuated in narrow white trainers. His pale face is punctuated with a large red nose. With a mumbled "Ahoj" he starts a converstaion with a bespectacled youth in the seat in front. Nearly full our bus labours up a hill to the last village on our route. Here a mass of small forms swarm onto the bus; each one half child, half school bag. Bright eyed, they chatter excitiedly playing dodgems as they thread their way down the aisle of the bus. We bumble the last mile or two into the town of our destination, soprano and tenor librettos of conversation around me accompanied by bass and baritone coughs from somewhere at the rear of the bus.
At the final stop the bus finally splits open and we spill out. First the highly-charged impatient juniors, followed by the senior pupils, their reluctance the result of experience, and then the adults to take the final bows to the unattentive world.
Saturday, 6 November 2010
There what did I say? What is it you humans have with thinking?
"Well, when I say 'thinking' you have to bear in mind that there are lots of different thinkings. Today I'm remembering."
Remembering? Why the distant smile?
"The old lady who lived opposite when I was young. When she came to visit my mother, she brought with her the smell of cough sweets and lavender. They would sit at the kitchen table and chat over tea and biscuits. Something took my mind back to that day I gazed over the table top and caught snatches of the adult conversation. My mother had told Mrs H how impressed she was with the plastic table cloth she had recently bought, how practical it was. On Mum's recommendation our elderly neighbour had also bought one and was now relating her experiences with it. 'Call me old-fashioned if you like but I'll stick to a traditional table cloth from now on, thank you very much. Yes it did wipe down OK, but you should have seen the mess when I ironed it; and the smell ...' I remember the contortions on Mum's face, hidden behind her tea cup, as she struggled with a mouthful of tea."
And Mrs Honey?
"She continue with a monologue on her attempts to clean pieces of plastic tablecloth from the bottom of an iron."
So there you have it, that's what humans think about when there are smells, scents and holes to deal with.
Monday, 25 October 2010
The leg has been getting stronger so this evening I walked to pick up the bus at the edge of town.
The sun had gone down by the time I set out but on the way to the forest a powerful sunset was still being acted out. A walker on such an evening could only feel part of its strength-giving unstoppable progress. Shades of salmon pink were washing across the small cluster of spongy clouds high up in the west, sunlight was still playing gently up there as the dusk settled around me.
Who designed this, painted it, wrote the choreography?
Performances daily, almost everywhere, no ticket required, dress optional.
Sunday, 10 October 2010
After an epidural injection in the lower back my left leg has loosened up to the extent that it now flops around rather and is reluctant to obey instructions. Walking is no longer the painful experience it was but is now a slow and comical process with the tendancy to make me tired quckly.
At the end of our road I caught sight of an unfamiliar bird clinging low down to the trunk of a small silver birch. (The eyes are not such good team players either at the moment, who hasn't noticed the many tryping errors in the little blogging and commenting I've done recently? I'm due for a second cataract op this week which should liven up the right eye to the speed its rejuvenated left partner.) I thought by its size and behaviour that this mystery creature was a green woodpecker and I started to take great interest; in 17 years here I've only had one sighting. Creeping towards the tree as stealthily as limbs and eyes could manage, it was no surprise when the bird took flight towards a small clump of trees around a grassy children's play area. The undulating flight confirmed in my mind that I was in the prescence of that rare something so I continued in pursuit. Of course it flew off again but I had a magical view of it flying in waves away from me along the track I planned to follow. As with so many things in life , it was just a fleeting elusive experience but I felt lucky to have seen what I did.
Sunday, 3 October 2010
There were others out there as well: cyclists, walkers, a group of runners. I know why they were there. There is a lot I don't know but Nature drives me (at the moment crawling along in 1st gear, but you need fuel even for that). I don't understand Nature but it gives me meaning and reason to be.
I am enjoying your blogs, but not able to write a lot at the moment.
Monday, 13 September 2010
Old Tramp is resting at the moment so I'll sneak in and have a word.
Do you know why he uses the tag "Tramp"?
It isn't just because of me, it isn't just because it fits his nature somewhat. You see the old boy has this sort of romantic notion of the word in its Czech context. He is an admirer of the Tramping "movement" that goes back 100 years or so in this part of the world.
Something of it here.
There's also an article in Wikipedia.
Now look quick, I think he's shuffling back.
Remember, mum's the word.
Friday, 10 September 2010
I would follow up with,
"Not even born in hospital"
and go on with the anecdote of how my mother spent 2 weeks in a maternity ward waiting for me to appear before being sent home to free a bed for a first-time mother (when I finally arrived I was the 4th)
Well I can't say that again. After 3 days on my front in bed when a pulled back muscle turned into a blocked nerve in the leg, I finally gave in and alowed myself to be taken into professional care for a few days.
The pills were weird. I awoke around 2am to see a fridge by the bed. The door opened and out stepped my brother, saying he had to adjust the GPS. He fiddled with the back of the fridge for a moment, bade me farewell, climbed back into the fridge and flew off, out of the window. It all seemed so natural.
What really did the trick, I felt, were the bottles of colorless liquid that were dripped into me.
Whatever, I am out now, no longer a hospital virgin, but better than when I went in and I am optimistic.
(George, can I say I am hopeful? - well it has been rather an egoistic entry! )
Saturday, 4 September 2010
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
The rain clouds had finally moved away to reveal a freshly painted blue sky containing just a few archipelagos of tiny cotton wool clouds. A summer breeze had returned to dry the vegetation but the ground was still sodden with the almost relentless rain of the past week.
"What is your greatest achievement?"
I've always struggled with such questions. When they have been thrown at me in job interviews and the like I've tried to produce an expected response, but my replies have never satisfied me personally. On reflection, this is probably because there is something meaningless about these questions. They could only be answered if we knew the full effect of everything we did or said (or how we did or said them).
The modern meaning of the word "success" is generally about getting desired results, which we are conditioned to believe are fame and fortune. The older meaning of "success" is about all results, consequences, things (and people) that follow. Just because what we say or do doesn't have a measurable result it doesn't mean that it isn't a great achievement. We get brainwashed by the "success-mongers" who consider it a great personal achievement for themselves if they can condition us into planning great personal achievements for ourselves.
For me attempting to be more positive in contact with others means potentially greater achievements than any personal goals set, greater because of the knock-on effect which we will probably never fully appreciate. These achievements can’t be considered as our own purely personal achievements but they are more powerful.
Thursday, 5 August 2010
To recall this day I rely mainly on photos donated to the website www.mapy.cz.
Novy Bor is a town of some 15 000 inhabitants, in the past a centre for the glass industry.
This dates from the 1830s but pilgrims passed this way before then.
This was my favourite, The Red House, a renaissance villa built in 1583.
I think I slept on the way home.
Friday, 30 July 2010
I have always craved simplicity. What do I mean by that? I don’t want to confuse simplicity with naivety, I have this desire to strip away unnecessary baggage and find the simple truths behind it all, to remove the superfluous trappings that hide the real meaning. Then there is this wish to bring things down to a level where I have something that I can cope with. However I so often strip away too much and the important is ignored. Another balance which is so hard to achieve and makes meaning hard to find.
But I am me and I seek simplicity, something to grasp onto because I am so easily overwhelmed.
Saturday, 17 July 2010
The memory of that Sunday in early May 2004 is not complete but some memorable moments stand out. The first was hearing a cuckoo, my first of the year, as I made my way down the hill from our village to get the bus to Prague with nobody else to enjoy this wonderful late-spring bright clear blue-skied morning. The next vivid recollection is getting on the bus out of Prague, I was admonishing a young man for trying to skip the queue and although I succeeded in getting him to wait, incomprehensibly to me he seemed to have the sympathy of those he was pushing in front of. My next memory is the bus leaving me in the main square of Varnsdorf after the 2 hour journey from Prague. Varnsdorf is a border town with a population of about 15 000. It was necessary to walk the kilometre to where the E10 path crosses in the Czech Republic from Germany. It was the month that this country joined the EU so the border crossing was being run down. I have no photographic or other documentary evidence of this dramatic beginning, there are no known witnesses but I was there, I am sure of it.
The path back to the town centre headed through an allotment area and around a small lake and then took me out of the town, across a meadow, through the edge a forest to the village of Jiretin entering Tolstejn country.
From here the path took me up the pilgrims path on Holy Cross Hill to the chapel at the summit. These pilgrims paths or "stations of the cross" are to allow pilgrims to meditate on Christ's walk to Calvary. On the way are a number of stations representing the 12 Apostles or 10 Commandments.
The chapel is at 560 metres but after a short descent there is another climb of another 100 metres or so that takes the path between the twin peaks of Tolstejn and Jedlova.
The ruins of Tolstejn castle on the left peak dates back at least to the 13th century. Despite this fortification, this was very much bandit country and there are numerous legends of local rogues. Descending this ridge I came to a railway threading its way through the hills. At the isolated station, frequented mainly by walkers, there was a small cafe which provided some welcome soup to add to the lunch I had brought with me, the clear skies of early morning now having given way to clouds and a damp, cold wind.
Continuing through the forest I tagged on to a school group and kept with them to the next village, Svor, where I headed up into the lowering cloud around my last climb of the day, Klic (Key). As I got to the summit, still in the forest, the wind got up and the cloud deposited some of its load. On the descent to the day's destination, Novy Bor, the rain cleared and the wind warmed up and dried me out.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
To walk more than the section in the Czech Republic was not considered. The aim became to look closely, to feel the country from border to border. You know something (or someone) better when you see the boundaries, the limits; even if, as with many of life's important lessons, it can be a difficult, painful experience.
So in spring 2004 the traverse of the country began. I made no record of the early stages but in following posts I will recall what I can.
Saturday, 10 July 2010
So today it's my turn.
First of all, I've had a haircut. I must say it makes this hot weather a bit more bearable.
Also I am rather enthusiastic about my walks as I expect you know. There's so much more to experience than he writes about, he doesn't see the half of what I get up to (thank goodness). If there's some long grass I must push into it, snout down and explore the smells. I don't know why he doesn't do that, there he is looking up at clouds. By this time of the year with things starting to dry out it isn't uncommon for me to get a piece of hay or grass seed lodged in an ear. This happened last week and although they managed to get it out for me, it caused a slight infection which is a bit uncomfortable (but quite good for getting sympathy).
The vet, who knows me quite well, has pronounced me the biggest actor among all her patients. She says that if I was human I would long ago have got to Hollywood or the Czech National Theatre. Now, I take that as a compliment.
Lastly, Tramp told me about this Solitary Walker who is into backyard camping. Just to show that he's not the only one to brave the elephants...
Keep cool ... Lady
Thursday, 8 July 2010
And so with 9 stages under my belt, about half way through and some 50km south of Prague, it was time to press on. There had been a week of very hot weather dampened down by some welcome heavy rain. Conditions were ideal and it only required the inspiration of reading of George's walking trip across the UK to get me back on the road.
An early start got me to the village of Obory (approx 49°41'N, 14°13'E) by 7.30, where I'd left off last year.
This part of the walk is not regularly walked, a sturdy hazel stick served as weapon against the undergrowth. I am not the first to have had difficulties here, a local legend tells of Jan Luxemburg (king of Bohemia in the early 14th century) who got lost here while hunting and built a chapel as thanks that he found his way out again. To tell the truth old JL was never really at home in Bohemia, he agreed to marry Eliska, the last of the Premyslid dynasty which went back to before St. Wenceslas. Jan brought his own men to Bohemia to serve under him which didn't endear him to the local nobility. His son, Karel, or Charles, was a different matter and a story for another day. No kings about today but four-legged friends:
The path then followed small roads giving a completely different rhythm to walking, the stick now employed as a propellor rather than for path construction. High octane fodder in the form of strawberry tart preceeded the descent to the Lisnicky stream where gold has been panned in past centuries. Any there?
After following the stream for a couple of kilometres the path climbs over a small hill to the village of Smolotely where there is a rundown chateau dating from around 1730, built on the site of a late gothic manor house.
The owners of the chateau introduced many exotic species of trees and shrubs during the late 19th century. They also planted an avenue of acacia trees, still quite small despite their age.
The path then follows the road to Bohostice where a pub provided a late lunch before the final kilometres (including a deviation due to creative navigation) to Kamenna, where today's stage finishes. Just a short walk to Cetyne to get the first of four buses to get home.
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
I’ve been away for a few days, a trip on the River Berounka. I was with a group I’ve been with before, I know three of them well enough to call friends, friendships cemented by mutual help and shared experiences over the years. Each year they construct a raft, boards laid on planks sat atop old inner tubes. Everything required for the four day trip is carried on board and the craft makes its way downstream sometimes paddled, occasionally gently turning on the current. It is pushed, pulled, man-handled over the weirs loaded and unloaded. The group gets down the river through teamwork.
I’m happy to be in a team, contributing what I can to the common good, but sometimes, just sometimes, I have to express the unease that I feel. There’s that feeling that I’m being coerced, manipulated, I’m losing something, my individuality is being nibbled away. In many situations in my life I’ve felt this, from the positive side proud of a tough independent streak, from the negative side embarrassed by the selfishness of it.
This evening I’m with a dog, a less demanding relationship.
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
It allowed my mind to wander back to what my wife had said on Sunday. Our grandson has a new sister, two months old. Of course she is so often the centre of attention and he feels pushed out, particularly after a recent accident when a visit to the hospital was required and naturally everyone made such a fuss of her. At the dinner table he had asked,
“Grandma, who do you like more, my sister or me?“
My wife pointed to two of his fingers.
“Now which of those would hurt most if you cut them?“
He was silent, perhaps he knew what was coming.
“Well that’s how I feel about you and your sister. I feel exactly the same pleasure and pain from each of you.“
He continued with the meal, I paused to digest the wisdom of her answer.
Monday, 21 June 2010
Wonderfully put, the grin it invokes must not be seen as mocking. That sort of enthusiasm is necessary. With the proliferation of weather we’ve had recently many of the routes that Lady and I take on our walks have got overgrown. Lady is quite capable, head down she disappears rapidly into tall grass: I need a stick to part the vegetation. There is a handy piece of silver birch which I use for the task and I keep it with me.
Later we have to follow the road for a while. How considerate the drivers are today. Each one slows down and gives us plenty of room. Not until we get home and I add the stick to our collection by the shed door do I realise how white the stick is and what this meant for the drivers. Is that a grin on Lady’s face?
Monday, 10 May 2010
Sunday, 9 May 2010
Over half of the walk was through forest, I could feel the difference in light that filtered through to me as I progressed. Just as I was starting to get a bit philosophical about how much light gets through to us as we go through life I heard a birdcall exactly like that of the old whistling kettle. Electric kettles are one of the timesavers of modern life and what do we do with that time? I made a mental note to buy a whistling kettle next payday.
That’s how my mind works, when things start getting too bookish I look for something real and practical. There was a quote somewhere about how we have no right to philosophise unless we do so to make ourselves happier. Now perhaps I read that in a book, perhaps I made it up when walking through the forest…
Saturday, 1 May 2010
Many people see this evening as a time to eliminate bad feelings and mood that have developed into something grotesque. May should be entered in a positive frame of mind and we shouldn’t be taking with us the thoughts and feelings that we have allowed to become ugly.
Saturday, 17 April 2010
There is no consistent wind this morning, nothing we could even label a breeze but large blobs of heavy cold damp air dab the face. It works like a cold shower, an alarm to the awareness that out on a walk you should look at life in another way. Thoughts today have been dominated by material concerns, which have been allowed to crush happiness. These negative thoughts now reduce to insignificance, here are the things in life that matter. The two kids (soon to be three with the imminent arrival of a granddaughter), the nature around full of wonder to marvel at. I should have gratitude for what is there, not over-inflated despair for what is not. True happiness is best built on a foundation of gratitude.
On our return there is food, after such a trip the body and soul appreciate it.
Sunday, 11 April 2010
How can I explain such beauty, several times I've sat down to write about it and nothing has come. Is there such a condition as “bloggers block”? I know that I am not always very outgoing verbally feeling that I have little to offer, better as a listener than contributor. Perhaps I am a reader rather than writer.
As we turn for home a few of the streetlights are already alight, confused by the change in time and quick progression of the seasons, I sympathise with them.
Sunday, 28 March 2010
There was a grey-blue hue to the sky, streaky to the west, to the east blotches letting enough sunlight through to form long weak shadows in front of us. A constant stream of wind flowed round us from the west.
My mind drifted to the bedtime story I had read my grandson last night, a Disney version of Kipling's Jungle Book. I'd struggled through the Czech text while he corrected my linguistic limitations and enthused at the illustrations of the characters. I recalled an English teacher, “Who do you think is the real hero of this story?” she would ask us to get us to think below the surface of what we had read. “And which character would you identify with?” I dwelt on this. Am I a Maughli, not wanting to see the dangers in life, am I an over-serious Baghera, or perhaps a Baloo bumbling through life? I'm probably a bit of each. Reflecting on our tendencies helps us to know how we react in life, what we are attracted to and why things upset us. Of course I must say I'm familiar only with Disney's adaptation of these characters, I haven't read the original.
After breakfast we will read another chapter, it will good for both of us.
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
For the first time this year the skylarks trilled to us but although I stretched my neck in all directions I gave up, unable to locate them.
Lady was in a foraging mood. Time and again she ran up to me and forced her muzzle deep into last year’s long dry grass, using her front paws to open a gap to push further. Then she withdrew her head and looked up at me. “Keep searching enthusiastically”.
(I am no photographer and I took these snaps on a phone)
Saturday, 20 March 2010
Lady wants to go faster than me and she dislikes waiting so she has to cover more ground. She achieves this in different ways. Earlier in the year I took to cross-country skis to traverse the snow covered field to reach the forest a kilometre or so distant. On these excursions she crossed my path in front of me in a sinusoidal pattern. Today her method was to charge ahead then turn and run back towards me with deviations to left and right, particularly to my right to forage under the line of walnut trees which the track follows.
We both know that we have our own pace, we have our own needs to meet, things that we want to experience on our walks. There is respect for the differences of the other but we enjoy each other's company. These walks wouldn't be the same for either of us without the other. She teaches me a lot about acceptance and tolerance.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
As we returned from the forest, the trees lining the small road we have to cross had sunk back to their winter forms, now just small stark silhouettes in the fading early evening dusk, just a final snooze before spring's alarm calls.
Monday, 15 March 2010
While in the village I had been aware of bird song coming from the shelter of gardens. The most visible sign of bird life was the small flock of starlings, a small-walnut-tree-full-sized small flock, very small compared to what I used to see sweeping through the winter skies at dusk in the UK. Skylarks will soon be a feature of walking the track across the field, their calling heard long before I am able to locate them by eye.
I know so little about birdsong, on our return journey I asked Lady if she listens to bird song, does she understand it? She looked at me, how was she to explain to me, a simpleton who communicates by mere words...............
Saturday, 13 March 2010
The winter here lasts so much longer than where I grew up on the east coast of England. There is a bare brownness to early March which lingers until spring takes over and then everything happens too quickly in April. From snowdrops to tulips in a week, trees showing and shedding their blossom, after the long wait there is so little time to take it all in.
March is also a season of wind. Such an important aspect of our lives, it brings so much into our lives, not just the weather and the seasons. Today I feel it will bring rain but it stirs me to think what other aspects of our life are brought as if carried on the wind.
Lady has a more active method of philosophising and is rolling in a patch of lingering snow.
Home for breakfast, no slippers today, girl!