I have undoubtedly mentioned my strained relationship with certain kinds of hippies before now and will do again, but I found myself travelling out of town today for an interview at a hippy school on the outskirts of Prague. Desperation no doubt, I applied to a few schools a while back, and some primary schools and even nursery schools amongst them. Lesson preparation was the main thing I was trying to avoid, and I wanted to find a way of staying in Prague without it.

I have written elsewhere of Rudolf Steiner and won’t do so again. I worked at a college for kids with learning disabilities for a number of years and found the work wonderful at times. The Rudolf Steiner atmosphere of being surrounded by crafts could be inspiring. The Rudolf Steiner aficionados were something else. It is a cult. This school, out in a leafy town on the outskirts of the capital was a mix of Rudolf Steiner, Montessori, and an American methodology which had taken something from the English Somerhill method of not forcing pupils to do anything they don’t want to do but assuming them to be willing and motivated to learn.

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The Monster cabaret of Fred Brunold, suggests newspaper Dnes, is what would come about if Kafka were to direct film noir. This may not top of the list of those things which might revulse Kafka’s ghost were he to pace back and forth in Old Town square today, but neither would it be one of those creative works which could not have existed without him and of which he could justifiably be proud.

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We last looked at Lucie Lomová’s first graphic novel, Anna Chce Skočit, or Anna Wants to Jump. Published first in French, it’s Czech edition won the Komiks Fest Muriel Award and the Zlatá Stuha, or Gold Ribbon, on the year of its release. Its success persuaded its French publisher Edition L’an 2 to commission a second, more ambitious and, since it is full colour, financially riskier graphic novel, Divoši, or Savages. Her talent now fully recognised at home, the Czech edition, which, I believe to have been published this time concurrently with the French, was supported financially by the Czech Ministry of Culture and to my knowledge remains the only domestic full colour adult graphic novel. Read the rest of this entry »

Unwittingly, I have known Lucie Lomová’s work for years. A few weeks back I posted on Hrdý Budžes, a book that was gifted to me a few years ago, and which I have translated into English, something which means I have spent more time with it than perhaps any other book (with the possible exception of a number of guides to programming BASIC for Acorn microcomputers which I carried around with me obsessively as a child). The illustration on the front of the book, of Helenka, the eight year old hero of the piece, walking through the snow in her home town of Ničín with a lantern held out on a stick in front of her casting a long shadow behind her, red stars in the sky above, is pitch perfect. I discovered a few days ago that this illustration was by Lucie Lomová after reading her first graphic novel, Anna Chce Skočit, Anna Wants to Jump.

A couple of weeks back, I stumbled upon the Sheldon-friendly comic shop, Comics Point, near Jířího z Poděbrad, a couple of hundred metres away from the famous television tower. Mentioning the comics exhibition at DOX, I asked for some Czech graphic novels, perhaps something like Alois Nebel. The guy behind the counter was helpful and picked out a few examples for me to look over. There was Kája Saudek, a huge spread-out-FT-sized album brought down from the top shelf with some ceremony, and the usual “of course” I have now heard every time his name is mentioned (”he would have been as famous as Walt Disney were he not born in Communist Czechoslovakia” claims a quote on the Kája Saudek museum, and whilst this is clearly hyperbolic, from the evidence I have seen so far it is far from being absurd and, since it may be technically easier to write prose for the shelf and publish it as samizdat abroad than to stockpile, copy or hide comics, it may prove to be the case that the impact of totalitarianism on Saudek’s output is one of the greater artist tragedies of Czechoslovak history). Saudek then, is something I will certainly look into as soon as I have the money. Stylistically though, his work appears to be varied, but I might describe it as the action film school of comics, and I was looking for something a little different. I looked over the others he had brought down. One was, stylistically, simply not my cup of tea, I remember little about it aside from there being a bunch of heavy metal album cover style post-apocalypse gas masks or some such. Might be great but I didn’t see myself getting on with it. There was then a couple from Lucie Lomová. The first, Anna Chce Skočit, Anna Wants to Jump, was familiar. I vaguely recall looking over it in Palác Kníh bookshop in one of my regular hunts for graphic novels on my holidays in Prague after moving back to Britain in 2005. I always bought something back, and asked others to do the same, but, as I tended for a long time to be more assiduous in my struggles with the Czech language than my efforts to familiarise myself with its literature, it was most often something translated into Czech. I waited impatiently for every book of David B’s L’Ascension du haut mal, Epileptic, for instance, and for Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to come out in Czech translation. At some point I must have looked over Anna Wants to Jump and decided against it. I looked over it now, liked the style and theme of the first pages and put it aside as a possible. Another, Divoši, Savages, by the same author was a little thicker, possibly a little more demanding on the finances, and full colour. I don’t know why but with newspaper cartoons and graphic novels both, I have always tended to prefer monochrome – my favourite artists, from Craig Thompson to Marjane Satrapi, David B and Seth, all have tended to work in monochrome or grey scales. I cast an eye over the lot and plumped for Anna Wants to Jump. As much as anything, I was in the mood for a female protagonist. Read the rest of this entry »

In 2004 I was living in a room in a house in Prague 4. Radím, a hyperactive unemployed anglophile banker, not long back from a stint working in a factory in Nelson in deepest darkest Yorkshire, had been one of my first students, and helped me find the place. Looking back, it was one of the better places I had in Prague. Probably one of the better places I’ve lived full stop.

I had lived at Radím’s and at his parents’ place. By then I had been in the Czech Republic perhaps three months, had taught a few classes, done a month’s TEFL course, and a further month’s intensive Czech. Aside from a couple of months flicking over a textbook or two at home before flying out, and having watched a couple of films, that was my only contact with the language. I can gauge my level in that time by the snatches of conversation I remember with the mother who reminded me of a character in Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye Berlin. That, and walking out one day and being asked by the usually grumpy man of the house if I had time – I recall feeling something like a sense of achievement or surprise or some such in recognising those two words in a phrase I had not specifically learned, a relative first since I had had little experience of learning languages before this, and what exposure I had had to French had been with the written language. He soon had me standing ten feet off the ground on an old wooden ladder that might have been made of rubber, fearing for my life and reaching out with a similarly decrepit wooden rake to pull a climbing vine off the wall, nearly pulling myself off with it. Read the rest of this entry »

For all the procrastination and wasted time, Twitter occasionally pays off. In that it can resemble the occasional revelations and opportunities thrown up by idle conversation and ‘cafe culture’ (whatever that is) more than the thumb twiddling brain-altering dopamine-stimming pez dispense cornucopia of whirling superficiality I usually take it to be. I remain ambivalent, but anything that puts me in touch with people I can see eye to eye with is no bad thing when I often struggle with this in what I perhaps ought not to call the real world without loading the dice.

Twitter put me on to German graphic artist, Clara Roethe when I was really struggling to find like-minded folk, surrounded by gregregious uber-psyched-extroverted-adrenalin types on the one side and drunk or perma-stoned small market town types on the other in North Wales a couple of years back, and so whatever may be its addictive qualities and drawbacks, I can say of it much as Winston Churchill said of alcohol, that I have taken more out of Twitter than Twitter has taken out of me. Read the rest of this entry »

I walked to the restaurant on the corner. I couldn’t be sat in my flat staring at the dried up flower dangling down the sideboard.

I had come to some realisation and no amount of YouTube and Facebook was going to change it. It wasn’t working. I wasn’t going to own my own flat soon. I wasn’t going to rent my own flat soon. I wasn’t going to be in the position not to be watched over by a bunch of miscellaneous oddballs as I screw up my life in that way I know, the lot of them coming and going, making you feel like some kind of reject by their perfunctory salutations or their small talk you can’t quite ever muster the energy to respond to.

I was never going to be a part of this place. Maybe I was never going to be a part of any place. It would never be my language, however often I forgot words in my mother tongue, dreamt in this one.

I counted my money onto the table as I went, keeping count as I ordering one wine after another, and moving onto vodka. I had the book I had picked up from the hostel on my first night. I had read it for a few days until I had bought a book of my own and then left it on a shelf in the corner for months.

I intended to get drunk and not think about anything until morning. I intended to spend all the money I had. There wasn’t much of it.

I had booked a flight before leaving the house; for the morning. I would go back, turn up unnannounced, knock on doors. Perhaps I could crash on somebody’s floor for a while.

I can honestly say I’ve never been happier than when I shook the change out of my wallet, slid a couple of coins to the side for the bus fare, scooped up the remainder with the notes I had crumpled under the desk lamp, and handed it to the sulky waitress with that slutty mouth piercing I’ve never been able to get a smile out of.

The still tepid air hit me as I stepped outside and I looked up and arranged my legs beside each other for a moment as two clusters of stars came together, my eyes focusing, as they had for the last hour or so, like an old television set drifting in and out of tune with a ghost of a picture shifting in and out of phase. I won’t say it was spectacular. It wasn’t. Not since I was five or six and looking up at the stars in the sky, millions of them back then, have I ever looked up to see anything approaching mindblowing. It was a handful of stars. I won’t say it was a powerful moment. I was drunk. But what there was, I was content with. I walked on and saw a man on his knees on the pavement, his back to a police car a policeman beside him, another a few metres down the road, looking through what must have been the man’s car. The guy with the bomber jacket was irritably calling his dog, kicking up grass from the swatch of greenery out the front of the flats. A bus went by and I heard it pulling in to run over the rumble strip of sunken cobble stones by the bus stop, water splashing over the pavement.

I had been nodding asleep in the restaurant. People had been looking over. They had stopped that when I had done the rounds staggering back from the toilet to buy a couple of cigarettes off somebody. I knew I would get back home, take a piss, fall forward onto my mattress on the floor and be out like a light. I had set my alarm, and would wake in time to eat a couple of things, throw some stuff in a bag and be gone.

On that walk home, I had decided something. I didn’t know things were going to turn out ok. But I didn’t know they were going to turn out bad. Most of all, I had decided, there was no point trying, day after day, trying to make it turn out the way I wanted.

I opened the door, greeted one of my housemates with a slap on his bare shoulder as he walked out of the bathroom with his toothbrush in hand, took a piss, and collapsed ceremonially onto my bed.