Colenso Books

COLENSO BOOKS: A selection of titles

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Saturday, 30 November 2019

Philotimo, The Greek Secret

YouTube Video

See also - my essay, "Philotimo": Perceptions of its Meaning in Works of Popular Anthropology and Fiction (Corfu Blues, Ars Interpres, 2006).

Ukraine: Where American Illusions and Great-Power Politics Collide (Foreign Affairs)

From Foreign Affairs: The Shoals of Ukraine, Where American Illusions and Great-Power Politics Collide

Multioptionsgesellschaft (mutiple-options society)

Swamped or overwhelmed by choice?

Here's the new word to describe it:

From The Economist 1843 magazine, Lane Green

Dorchester: Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum awarded prestigious quality mark

From Dorset Echo, Alex Cutler

The Sandford Award judges praised the team at the museum, saying: “A visit to Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum is one children will long remember.”

U.S. Backs Hong Kong Protesters After Pro-Democracy Candidates Win Election

From NPR (listen and read)

"President Trump has signed into law a bill that supports pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. How's this being viewed in mainland China? NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to David Rennie of The Economist".


INSKEEP: First, I have to ask, as best you can tell, is Beijing symbolically upset or seriously upset by this law?

RENNIE: No. They are seriously upset, and you can tell that because if you're based in Beijing and you have off-the-record conversations with pretty senior Chinese officials, as I have in the last few days, they are full of the idea that all of these protests are being whipped up, paid for, organized by the CIA or by the British government, by hostile Western forces; that it's a plot to contain and destroy China by trying to foment a revolution in Hong Kong...

Other China news:

The Chinese Builders Behind Africa's Construction Boom, Spiegel Online

The New Geography of Global Diplomacy, China Advances as the United States Retreats, Foreign Affairs

Friday, 29 November 2019

Corfu: Yannis S. Pieris, Corfu, Through Passage of Time; Γιάννης Σ. Πιέρης - «Πορεία στον χρόνο» (και στον τόπο)

A new book about Corfu by Yannis Pieris, President of the Corfu Reading Society.

Γιάννης Σ. Πιέρης, ο πρόεδρος της Αναγνωστικής Εταιρείας Κέρκυρας - «Πορεία στον χρόνο» (και στον τόπο)

Η παρουσίαση του βιβλίου, θα πραγματοποιηθεί στην Αναγνωστική Εταιρία Κερκύρας, την Παρασκευή 13 Δεκεμβρίου 2019.

To Vima review

Παρουσίαση βιβλίου του Γιάννη Σ. Πιέρη, «Πορεία στο Χρόνο» στην Αναγνωστική Εταιρία, Enimerosi

Plous Bookshop Window Display (photo Lena Koronaki)

Coastal Path, Landslip and Rock Falls; Past Warnings; Burton Bradstock, West Bay; Bowleaze Cove

Walking the Coastal Path from West Bay to Burton Bradstock

Some people leap
From the top of sheer cliffs.
Others are buried
By landslides.
Planned or unplanned,
Life's all cliff-falls and ifs.

There's no saving hand.
Rocks erode, land subsides.


Poundbury Parking Stipulations


"Not to allow any trailer, caravan, motorised caravan or boat or other similar chattel to be brought onto the Property or to be parked in any Car Parking Space".

See also, posting from December 2015 (written 2014): 

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Fish 'n' Chips, Weymouth

The sun was shining for a while. Where to go?
To Weymouth, for wonderful fish and chips!

Other delicacies noticed near the Old Harbour:

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Lawrence Durrell’s Endpapers and Inklings 1933-1988, Volume One; Richard Pine

Lawrence Durrell’s Endpapers and Inklings 1933-1988, Volume One, Autobiographies, Fictions, Spirit of Place

Editor: Richard Pine

Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019

See also, The Durrell Library of Corfu:

Some Books of the Year, 2019

I would like to draw special attention to these outstanding books:

Notes to Self, Essays, by Emilie Pine, Hamish Hamilton and Penguin, 2019

Kiss and Part (Ten short stories by various writers), ed. Margaret Drabble, Canterbury Press, 2019

The Golden Face, Theodore Stephanides (bilingual ed., Greek translations by Vera Konidari, Colenso Books, 2019

Poppy and other poems of grief and celebration, Julian Nangle, ed. F. H. Mikdadi, Alyscamps Press, Paris, 2019

On my shopping list:

How to wear a skin, Louisa Adjoa Parker, Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd, 2019

Book launch 22 January 2020

Monday, 25 November 2019

Ian Whitwham in Prague, 1987, 1989 and 2006: Read Ian's Comic Masterpiece!

Ian Whitwham has given me permission to post this wonderful and wildly funny account of his three visits to Prague, the first in November/December 1987. I still can't stop laughing, even when I am occasionally the butt of some of his gentle mockery. He mocks himself more often, and the antics of the Czechoslovak Secret Police. He is not politically correct, but I guarantee he'll make you laugh. I had asked him to write an account of his first visit, from 24th November 1987 to 10th December 1987. This he did, and much, much more. I had planned to add it as an appendix to a book I had written about Czechoslovakia, which covered the years I lived and worked there, from April 1986-October/November 1989 (it also covered the years from 1948-1954, which I later researched).

The book may still be published (it needs some further corrections and restructuring), and it will certainly include Ian's hilariously witty account. But Ian's contribution shouldn't wait any longer to see the light of day. It could also probably benefit from some professional editing and improved layout/indentation, but I think many of you will enjoy the trip(s) as written, served still fresh and raw, as it were, even after all these years. I think it's a classic, not just of comic writing and social observation, but it's also a valuable testimony, that of an intelligent outsider's or visitor's perceptions of those dramatic times. I love Ian's style and distinctive voice. Over to Ian, one of the witnesses, with many thanks:



by Ian Whitwham

(copyright Ian Whitwham)

November 1987

(Videos at end)

 I’m going through the Iron Curtain. I’m smuggling a banned book for Jim. ‘Professional Foul’, by Tom Stoppard - about smuggling a banned book through the Iron Curtain - and getting into big trouble with the Czech Police.

 They’re over there. Customs. Waiting for me.  Grim and cheerless.
Jim’s behind them. Waving and smiling. Will I get through?
I panic. I sweat.  I hand over my baggage..
The dodgy tome is under a Saul Bellow.
Is he banned too? Literature is important here.
I sweat some more. Is it the cell and truncheons? I smile at hatchet faces. They do the Stare. I get a little frisson. I feel Kafkaesque..

  Why am I here?  I’m a teacher - Jim’s guest. I’m a wet liberal and lapsed socialist from Thatcher’s drear Britain. Hatchet face glances dully at my passport. He fluffs at woollies, ruffles socks and does another Stare. Then he waves me through! Yes! Through the Iron curtain. We drive through the winter gloom. Through drab streets under Stalinist skies. We lurch through mists down to the Old Town. Down to Zlatá Prague!

  I seem to have slipped into a trance - into some kind of Byzantium. Towers and steeples and saints hang in mists under pitch skies over  dark waters. A gothic blur. We cross the river and stop outside a dowdy building in a shadowed street. The  British Council. We go though battered doors. A shifty man sits near big bins. He watches us get into a ramshackle lift. A spy I shouldn’t wonder.  What thrills. We enter the Council.

  Jim introduces me to his smiling staff. I see John Lennon. He’s painted on a ceiling.  I give him Tom Stoppard. He laughs. Was he winding me up?
Not at all - things are serious here.  Systems are crumbling. The Council is caught in the crossfire - in much drama.  Jim takes me to his office. He briefs me. Don’t make waves. Keep your counsel. You will be watched. They watch everyone. No big deal.
Beware of hidden mikes. They’re all over the place. They’re in this room. Beware of women. With high cheekbones.  Sirens who deal in danger. Don’t be a clot. Don’t get seduced. Like that Englishman who got his legs broken....
And beware of men in leather jackets and raincoats! I rather relish this. 
‘You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows’.
Otherwise Prague is mine. I will use the Council as my base.

  It clearly is for many others. There’s a regular traffic of, teachers, actors, dissidents, poets, drivers, diplomats and, no doubt, the odd informer. I meet Markéta - a brilliant artist. I meet Magdalena - actress, singer and wit. I meet her singing chum Jan. Jim seems to know half Prague. He’s at ease and open to all. He brings a sunny disposition to his work. A lightness of touch. It’s a delicate balancing act. He speaks effective Czech and has real passion for Czech culture. Just like his passion for blues and rock ‘n’ roll. A trump card, this. Rare in Cultural Attaché’s. He prefers Howlin’ Wolf and the Rolling Stones to much of the High Culture to which he must seem to be attached. This stands him in good stead - as we will see.

 While he’s bringing down walls I’m wandering down streets. I watch out for spies. There goes one - gazing from a pew in Charles University. There’s two more -  stalking me on an escalator. Smudge-faced fellows in raincoats - on my case. I’ve never felt so significant. I walk for hours and hours. I’m mesmerised by the place. It’s so dark and shadowed and empty. It’s such a winter city. A city of the unconscious... I wander down more subtle lanes and labyrinthine alleys and Kafka cul-de-sacs. Ether burns orange in lanterns. Stars burn Russian red on tramlines. Chandeliers flicker in wonky attics. I imagine trysts and betrayals and treachery.


  I gaze on altars and graves like broken teeth. I walk always with my Walkman on.  I pass Nazi hospitals and pictures of Stalin and Brezhnev and hear Marianne Faithful singing ‘Broken English’

 ‘Don’t speak to me in German.
  Don’t speak to me in Russian.
  Speak to me in Broken English’
And Leonard Cohen sings  ‘And then we take Berlin’.

  I wander into St Nicholas’ Church. A guide - with those cheekbones - ushers me round. It’s all so baroque and roll.
 ‘Why so many candles?’  ‘It makes the Christs weep!’
 ‘Why so many writhing saints? So many pierced Sebastians?’
 ‘Orgasms’ says the siren. ‘Repressive Systems...’

   I go down basements with bars all smoke and mirrors. I drink Becherovka. Or is it absinthe. After a few hits anything can happen. Golems and angels and mad alchemists can happen. Charles Bridge could happen. It does. Gaunt statues shift in the hanging mist. Shadows put on weight.  Blasted by the light of  VB vans. You get caught in the shiver of their eyes. Too beautiful. It ruins you. How did the sculptor get this effect? How did he achieve such resonance?
   ‘Acid rain!’ says my companion. ‘Sulphur. Pollution’. 
 Russian winds blow.  I could be walking on air. I nearly am.
   ‘This bridge is built on eggshells!’ 
  Perfect. I laugh at all this useless beauty. I look up at the Hradčany and Kafka’s Castle. There he goes with his sharp suit and dandy ways and his dark laughter. I must find his grave. I ask anyone. No one can tell me. He’s banned. Still. I get directions. I follow them. He’s not there. Wrong graveyard. Perfect. I go to Nový židovský hřbitov. There he is - under a plain headstone with conkers all around.


   I see him again. A gaunt seer, off the Old Town Square.  I gaze on the Astronomical Clock built by Master Hanuš who was blinded for its beauty. All this useless beauty... all this brute deprivation. It makes you dizzy.  I go back to the Council.
  Most evenings Jim takes me to basements to hear poets and singers.  Or to Fringe Theatres to see dissident plays. I meet Havel’s wife Olga. We see a hugely subversive  Measure for Measure’. We visit Markéta’s father to see his paintings.  Culture is politics. Poetry is necessary here. Serious stuff. I meet many brave people. Without these evenings Prague would have been mostly impenetrable.
  I can’t work out the System. It’s everywhere - a low level drizzle. It doesn’t seem to do fifties terror. It just seems to impose a dulled acquiescence. I want to like it. I soon loathe it.  It kills the spirit. It tries to kill the soul. You see it everywhere....

   A very old woman hoovers the altars in St Mary of the Snows. She kneels before fonts and looks quite skeletal. She looks about to meet her maker in whom she must not believe. Some dumpling women sitting in a cellar at dawn. They’re just off the night shift and tuck into 3-tier cardiac-arrest cakes and doughnuts and sausages. They smoke fiercely and take shots of Slivovitz. Shots of oblivion. At 6 am. Teenage Czech girls gazing at Free West anorexics in Benetton. They queue for ice-cream. For ‘zmrzlina’ - it even sounds like being sick. Battered stoics queuing for soup while tourists dine in the few plush restaurants. Just like me. Our holiday in their misery.  I feel a voyeur of rotten lives. Resistance seems pointless. Get too stroppy, too dissident, too intellectual - and it’s the bad schools, the baseball bats or the boiler room for you.
  The Party is always having parties.
Celebrations of the Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic. There must be one tomorrow.   Bored men in trucks hang Czech flags and Russian flags and red ribbons and stars over lampposts and windows and facades. Wenceslas Square is festooned with slogans. I ask Markéta what they mean. ‘Nothing’ she smiles. They are the opposite of meaning.

 Holiday of the Working People of the Whole World!’ says one.
 ‘The aim of the Communist Party: the Happiness of Man’ says another.
  Ah, but which man?
 ‘Mother Russia will take care of you for ever!’ says one above Hotel Europa.
Presumably in the Al Pacino sense.
Some are extremely long.
‘They’re paid by the letter’

  I’m a bit of a party animal and so pop down next day to Wenceslas Square for the fun.   A phalanx of grim men perch under red ribbons on a rostrum. Spud-faced porkers in suits with the odd capon wife. Rather formidable women who don’t look as if they’ve  laughed since 1948.  Above them there’s big blow ups of bigger cheeses - Lenin and Marx and Oliver Hardy and Donald Duck or Gustáv Husák or Miloš Jakeš? 

  Music occurs. Well, noise. Tinny and tuneless and taped. Migraine music. Sergeant Husák’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I rather hope it could be Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned by the Plastic People of the Universe. Fat chance - they’ve been squashed. Or the Rolling Stones knocking out ‘Street Fightin’ Man’.  (They will! they will!)... The din squawks to a halt. The Czechs somehow keep straight faces. They don’t really hear it. They’ve been not listening since 1968 .. or is it 1948? 

 Time for the porkers to unleash the porkies. A Big Cheese with Brylcreem parting cracks the ‘annual smile’. And he’s off. He drones on and on like a robot - a Czech word.
‘Things are jolly good!’ translates Markéta. His reflections are mangled in the sound system. It’s all static and shrieks and feedback. He sounds like he’s eating wasps. He talks in tongues. Is it Russian, Czech or Moon language?

 There is gunpoint applause. It only encourages him.  Off he goes again.  For a few more hours. You grow old. You lose the will to live. You must find it hilarious. Don’t laugh! They’ll only photograph you and your children will get expelled and you’ll be cleaning windows.


  So the Czechs construct their faces in a grim rictus of attention. The chasm between the party and the populace is total. It’s hilarious and depressing. It’s like the London SWP times ten. A numbing NUT meeting times fifty. I’ll tell those left wing loonies what it’s really like when I get back to London. Now I go back to the Council where Czechs give most amusing commentaries on the Party’s antics.
 Jim arranges for me to visit a couple of Prague Secondary Schools. Lovely teachers. Lovely children. I go into classrooms and answer questions from the pupils who speak good English. I talk of London and buses and fashion and weather.
  ‘Have I ever met Princess Diana?’
   I talk of my pupils and their music.
   ‘Do they like “Iron Maiden”? Black Sabbath”?’
    Aren’t they banned? I’d ban them.
   The pupils hang on to my every word. I mention Dickens. Teachers smile. They like Dickens. And Shakespeare? Yes! And Steinbeck? ‘Of Mice and Men?’ Yes! Books are important here. More so than in the free West. My pupils throw them across the classroom in my London comprehensive. They’re often a bit illiterate. Not here, it seems.
  ‘And Orwell?’ No, not Orwell! Definitely not.
  ‘And Kafka?’ A cheap shot.  No, not Kafka at all. Who he?
   I tell them more about my pupils and suggest they could be pen friends? They seem uncertain. They are polite, clever and civil. They seem to have more proper knowledge than my pupils. They are more disciplined and more literate. They seem to respect learning much more. Maybe it’s all that Marxist Leninism. And yet...and yet... there’s more than a whiff of Gradgrind about it all. And the fear.
  I mention ‘Perestroika.’ It gets tense. Discussion is squashed.


  I go back into the staffroom. The teachers are most open about things. I’m surprised. They smile about Kafka. I apologise. They know what I think and they agree and it will get better and these things can’t last for ever.  Oh  .. and there are informers in the class. 
  Do they inform my Nemesis? The Dominatrix.
Jim, as ever, is improving East-West relations. To this end we will go horseriding in Bohemia. We journey forth through delightful countryside.
 ‘Have you ever been on a horse?’ says our teacher Miss Strict with her riding crop. She looks a bit like Olive Oil. I have never been near a horse. But I can’t say no. I don’t know the word. So I mumble.
  I am ordered up a ladder. I clamber up this ladder. I perch on a beast as big as a barn. I feel dizzy.  It eats grass. It leans over. I fall off. Once more I go up the ladder. I am tied on. Our horses walk towards distant horizons. I have not suggested to my horse to do this. I am very frightened. Is this for laughing at the Party? Larking around with dissidents?  Mentioning ‘Perestroika’ to those children?  I experience pure terror. I try to suggest that I’ve never been on a horse.  Miss Strict cares not a fig.  She discusses things equestrian with the Cultural Attaché. In Czech. We proceed to the swamplands.  Miss Strict barks. Her horse trots off. Jim’s horse trots off.  Mine doesn’t. It eats more grass. I tilt off.  I dangle from stirrups. I clutch things. I crawl back on to the beast. The dominatrix looks back. She scowls at me.  She scowls at Jim. Who is that buffoon? What is he doing? Jim is unable to concoct any meaningful exegesis for my antics. Miss Strict barks again. Their horses start to trot. Then they gallop. They’re galloping! I hope mine doesn’t. It doesn’t. It bolts all over Bohemia. A unilateral decision. The huge fucking beast gallops off in all directions. I tell it not too. It doesn’t speak English. I kick it with spurs. Just like Ms strict ordered. It just gets irked. Bleeding Communist quadruped! It thunders through Bohemia and deposits me into a swamp. Worse, it’s a sewer. I’m covered in shit somewhere in Bohemia.


I am possibly dead. This affords Jim cheap mirth. He sits smug in the saddle. Giggling with little dignity. But not La Whiplash - she goes rather ballistic. Cultural relations have taken a turn for the worse.  She yells at Jim.
  ‘Are you responsible for this fuckwit?’ seems the gist of her observations. Jim cannot wipe the smile off his face. We say goodbye. We will not return. Never. He’s still laughing. I’m still in trauma.

 Thank goodness there’s a party tonight at the Council. Jim’s organised it. December 8. An evening of poetry, folk and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s terrific. Poets recite, Magda and Jan and Jim sing. Everyone gets on and dances - secretaries and drivers and philosophers and lift attendants and artists. I drink too much Becherovka. I tell Jim he’s doing a great job.
   ‘When the mode of the music changes the walls come tumbling down!’    
It’s late. I’m kidnapped by Magda and her chums down empty moonless streets. We end up on a deserted Charles Bridge.  We sing songs near crucifixions and saints. Swans drift down floods and snow falls under moonlight. It really does. Punks and hippies sing Dylan and the Not-So-Secret-Police strafe us with their silly lights.  Who cares? I am plastered under the stars in the most beautiful city on earth. Walking on eggshells... bliss is it to be alive - to be having a mid-life crisis a very heaven. I must write a song about this.I will give it to the Pogues.

(Listen to Ian's Prague  song "Felice", as amended  and arranged by Ron Kavana).

I return at dawn. With two legs. Jim and Maria smile. I must fly back to the Free West. I thank them both for such a significant time. I must return to Prague. It has rather ruined me.
‘This little mother has claws...’


 October 1989

    Through the Iron Curtain again. Through the customs with some rock ‘n’ roll - some Clash, Pogues, Tom Waits.
   Prague is still magic. A dark and winter city. And still dramatic. The system has been crumbling. The party doesn’t like that ‘perestroika’. It loosens things up.  I’ve watched the riots and demonstrations on television. Five thousand brave Czechs in Wenceslas Square. Not just the usual suspects. The young and old. Families too. They’ve lost the fear. They’ve got the numbers.
  I meet Markéta by the Vltava. Raincoats skulk under the turning golden leaves. She tells me of impending demonstrations, of ‘manifestations’ in the square. She has illustrated ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It’s brilliant. Oblique, menacing and subversive. I see Magda once in a play. She’s busy translating things.  Jim takes me to old haunts. ‘Havel’ scratched  on church walls. We hear angry jazz and poets in basements.  

   Tonight it’s Jim’s turn. He’s reading his verse, his lyrics, his rock ‘n’ roll.  We go through the bitter streets to a bookshop. It is chock-full with writers and the odd raincoat.  There’s a balcony full of derelicts. Wrong ‘uns. Are they the Plastic People of the Universe?  One introduces himself as an axe murderer. Is that Havel? Is he out of jail? I’m introduced to Holub. Miroslav Holub! A real thrill. My pupils love his poetry - especially ‘History Lesson’ and ‘Fairy Tale.’  I tell him. I quote him:

lone as an arctic fox through the cold unending rain into the world. 

He seems pleased.

  Jimi Potts - rock ‘n’ roll diplomat - gets up to read.  I think back to the time he used to declaim Ginsberg in Wadham College, room 7 staircase 12.  Off he goes - sometimes in Czech! This isn’t a precious poetry club in Somerset. This is necessary verse. Literature is important here.  There’s much clapping and applause.


He does another (his First Impressions of Prague, from 16 Poems, launched the same evening)

‘Being above a butcher’s shop
Makes Prague seem built of ham:
Smoked Gothic,
Pork baroque;
Dvořák in a bloody apron’

 More! He does. More applause. It is most moving.  It ends. The axe murderer pours me a red wine. And another. I feel significant again.  A woman approaches. She has the cheekbones. She speaks in broken English.
  ‘Would you like to go for a coffee?’
   I must be mature. I must not be a clot.
   We traipse through rather romantic murk.  We enter a Communist ‘Happy Eater’. ‘The Suicidal Eater’? All plastic and lit like a cop shop. We order coffees. We smile at each other.
   ‘Did you like the poetry?’
   ‘But of course!’
   ‘Who are you?’
   This is more like it! I tell her. 
   ‘What are you doing here?’
    Fabulous tensions. The coffees arrive.  She sinks three sugars.
    ‘I have a sister. She owns a hotel!’ She sinks two more sugar lumps. We seem to have slipped into bad Pinter.
    ‘I have been to Britain!’
    ‘I’m from Ladbroke Grove!’ 
     It gets worse..
    ‘I am passionate about Britain. I love Bangor - and Brushstrokes - and Bowie!’


We seem to be in the realms of a florid schizophrenia. Has she been badly briefed or just bonkers on the system? She sinks more sugars. I address each topic in turn.  Bangor. I have never been to Bangor. ‘Brushstrokes’ - it’s a rubbish sit com. My friend Mike is in it. I must tell him he’s big with the StB.
    And Bowie? Which Bowie?  ‘Diamond dogs’? ‘Alladinsane’? ‘Ashes to Ashes?’
    A blank.
    ‘Or ‘Heroes’  - about cold war lovers?
    More blanks. More sugars.
  ‘You’re spying on me, aren’t you?’  I don’t feel good. Our tryst conks out. We smile. I pay. We leave. We say goodbye. I say good luck. What a job. Her bosses are losing the plot. It must be over. I return to the Council. I talk to Markéta.
  ‘If we have our revolution,’ she says. ‘It’ll take at least 40 years to recover from.’
   I have a last coffee alone under chandeliers in Hotel Europa. The waiter has a dirty collar and sleepless eyes and seems bone-tired and bored of it all. The sky is pitch outside and snow falls thick. I try to scribble something significant on a beer mat. I fail. I must leave to get a plane. I cross an empty Wenceslas Square. Old Europe. Palach did it over there. The snow swirls and falls hard. My long coat is quite covered. You just know it’s over. I walk down by the Vltava. All those towers and steeples and saints. There can be nowhere more beautiful than this city in the falling snow. It does me in. I get on the plane and it’s all gone.


 Coda 1    

  Another month and the walls all fall down. It’s over! The Velvet Revolution! Thousands and thousands in Wenceslas Square. Waving Czech flags. Havel on the balcony! Havel on the balcony with Dubček! It gives you goosebumps. I watch it all on television. With Markéta. She’s staying with us in London. She feels wonderful. The Velvet Revolution! The end of the Cold War. The end of all that suffering. All those show trials and 4 am calls and beatings and buggings and interrogations and immolations and suicides and files and photos and banned books. All those ruined lives. Forty years of it! All gone. At a stroke. And what did it? The forces of history? Kruschev? The Pope? Gorbachev? Coca Cola? The Voice of America? Havel and the Chartists? The Samizdat writers? Rock ‘n’ Roll? The Plastic People of the Universe?  Markéta and Magda? The rock ‘n’ roll diplomat? The British Council was in the thick of it. The lines were always open.

And the Rolling Stones played Prague

Coda 2 - July 2006

  Jim and I return to Prague. We’ve retired. So’s communism.  I’m carrying a book through customs. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ by Tom Stoppard. About the Velvet Revolution. The authorities care not a jot. Literature isn’t important anymore.
    Summer rages. The sun blasts shadows off the cobblestones. We wander into Wenceslas Square. It’s chock-full of tourist hordes. Market forces rule. Thatcherism rages. It’s like Leicester Square. That dark and empty winter square has gone.  There are hookers and pimps and drugs and thugs and casinos and porn and English stag parties hunting ‘pussy’. Oh dear. There’s beggars kneeling and dogs barking on string. The bars serve cocktails and have plasma screens with Christine Aguilera faking orgasms. Just like London. Just like us.  I try to dredge up a telling socialist comment. I think of Markéta’s remark. I thought things would be more gentle and more kind.  Forget it.  It’s none of my business.


We go to the old Town Square. Where did Gottwald stand? Where was Jan Hus burned? Where did Kafka walk? Where did those armies clash? Who cares eh? It’s just chock-full of tourists. Like me. They wave mobiles at cathedrals. The Tyn church is all kitsch in Disney lights. They wave mobiles at the Old Town Clock. They wait for the saints and the skeleton to emerge. They don’t. They’ve conked out. Is this the end of old time? The End of History?

All that useless beauty.

 It gets worse. Even Kafka - the banned Kafka, the significant, dangerous, necessary Kafka has been marketed and spun. Frankie’s gone to Hollywood. It’s Rock - a - Hoola Kafka everywhere.

A man flogs jumping beetles on a stick.
Gregor Samsor jumps about the pavement.
And Kafka wanted his work all burned.

  All’s not lost. We meet Markéta. She’s doing really well. She’s just illustrated ‘Metamorphosis’ and Paul Muldoon, who says she is a genius. She designs the Czech Republic’s postage stamps. We meet Magda who’s doing well too. She’s working with Havel. She’s working with Tom Stoppard on ‘Rock’ n’ Roll’!  She has reservations about that Velvet Revolution.
 ‘We did it for Kafka and Chekhov - not just for Tescos and KFC.’
   We all end up at a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I order a ‘Twister’. Suddenly a poet passes - as they used to do.  A ghost of Old Prague. Jim hails him. Jim still knows them all. He chases the poet down the street. It is Pavel. A major poet! He introduces us to his Muse. She’s got the cheekbones. We go down the backstreets and even wander across Charles Bridge. It is empty and dark at last. Ghosts still shift in the hanging mist. The Christ still weeps on his cross. The statues still look sublime. It must be that acid rain. It must be that corruption.

So much of Prague is so much better. But so much of the magic and mystery has gone. Dazed and a bit flattened, we return to London.    

Ian and Jill Whitwham