Czeching out
28 Aug 2004
Readers may have noticed how many of the regular writers in the national press are drawing on their holiday experience to fill their columns, sometimes seeking to extract from it conclusions of national importance. So here goes.
The Youngs were denied the lavish hospitality in the West Indies and Italy made available to other political dynasties, and went, first, for a few days to a small Dorset hotel on the English beach with grandchildren, buckets and spade. And then we went off to Prague, leaving the sandy grandchildren behind.
On the first leg, I merely comment on the revolution in beach furniture over the generations. The deckchair and towel have been abandoned in favour of major civil engineering projects that accommodate the visitor to the English beach in the 21st century. Had it not been a temporary construction, our littoral neighbours in Studland Bay would have required an Environmental Impact Assessment and Planning Consent for the protection from the elements they had erected in the sand, seriously obstructing our daylight.
Prague is a great city, well worth a visit. Indeed, all the books on Prague had been sold by WH Smiths in Andover – a sign of the adventurous and cultured tastes of my constituents.
We stayed in the old prison in Prague, which has been converted into a hotel. They clearly have a more progressive penal policy in the Czech Republic which permits such conversion; over here, I get the impression our Government would like to turn old hotels into prisons. Which leads to one’s embarrassment at the behaviour of English louts abroad – a minority, but an extremely vocal one. No other nationals appear to behave like this, legless after a few litres of Czech beer. Prague is the preferred venue for the stag night –it is cheaper and almost quicker to get from Manchester to Prague by air than to London by train – and the beer is less than half the price. Most of the stags behaved very well, but a small number ended up in a less comfortable prison than we did.
Public transport in Prague is a delight. For £6, you buy a ticket that gets you on the buses, trams and metro for a week. The ticket was never checked – perhaps a legacy of Communism is some sense of civic responsibility that makes fare dodging rare.
While there was no litter, there was plenty of graffiti. But the Czechs are restoring their city with pride, their great architecture compensating for their rather disappointing cuisine.
Returning and going through customs, I was reminded of a previous occasion when I went through the Red Channel to declare some overseas purchases. In front of me was an attractive girl in a short skirt. When invited by the Customs Officer to say what she had to declare, she said “Nothing.” “Then you’ve come through the wrong channel – be on your way”, replied the custodian of the nation’s fiscal boundary. Then, as an afterthought, he asked her why she came through the Red Channel. “It is simple” she replied “When I go through the Green Channel, I always get stopped by your red-blooded colleagues”
 
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