November 2009: twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolution that was velvet.
Back in 1989 I was still at primary school. I think I remember seeing the fall of the wall on TV but perhaps I’ve invented that later. A boy in our class brought in a fragment of the Berlin wall to show everyone. I remember being disappointed. It was just a small bit of grey rock I could have picked up on the wasteground where I used to take my dog for a walk. The dog was called Teddy. He was a Bearded Collie and had masses of fur that I didn’t brush often enough so it matted into huge clumps I’d later have to cut off with nail scissors.
My very first Czech-related memory goes back to primary school too. We had a spelling test and I was the only person who knew how to spell Czechoslovakia. There aren’t many words in English that begin with ‘Cz’.
I also collected stamps. Three pages of my album were devoted to Czechland. I still have it. The ones from exotic places like Equatorial Guinea and Cuba and Malaysia have huge butterflies or angelfish or Disney characters launching space rockets. The Czech ones are less colourful. Some have tiny engravings of castles or a thumb sized portrait of Gottwald. Another one has a zebra; one has a Soviet red-star with a 50 in the middle. There are a couple with pictures of carp on them. They are all very neatly arranged on the page, pasted on carefully with stamp hinges, those little strips of gummed paper. I was that kind of child.
According to Samuel Johnson, no-one but a blockhead wrote but for money. Or a bloghead. I’ve been trying to write for money recently which is partly why you’ve heard less from me here. My recent assignment was to interview an ex-pat novelist whose last book was set in Czechland. I spent some time compiling a thoughtful and intelligent list of questions which I first saved as a Word document and then fired off by email.
‘You haven’t sent those questions yet have you?’ Czechman pipes up. He’s been using my laptop since the graphics card in his gave up the ghost.
‘Yes, I have. Why?’
‘There are spelling mistakes. Look, you’ve spelt Czechoslovakia wrong.’