List posts are the friend of time-poor bloggers. As today is the day the Czechs celebrate Christmas, it seems reasonable to use this tried and tested format to reflect on some of the advantages of spending the festive season back in Blighty.
1. Carp’s Head Soup
While turkey poses its own problems as a festive dish such as how to cook it so it doesn’t end up being hopelessly dry as well as how to serve up the leftovers in new and creative ways, when served up with all the trimmings, at least it looks, well, like a feast. Carp’s head soup? Festive? I don’t think so. Carp in breadcrumbs accompanied by potato salad may be more palatable but again, it fails the Christmas decadence test as far as I’m concerned.
2. Freedom to indulge in wanton consumerism
Back in November, while I was still in Prague, I noticed something strange was happening – or rather, it wasn’t happening. It wasn’t just the weather, which was blissfully mild for the time of year. It was a different kind of absence. Santa Claus was barely to be seen either in the many shop windows in the centre of Prague or in any of the adverts on our large non-plasma TV screen. Christmas in Czechland promised to be pleasingly less commercial. ‘What a relief,’ I sighed to myself.
By December of course the adverts hit the small screen and a knee-high Santa Claus had appeared in the main entrance to Debenhams along with a couple of reindeer. The thing was though, somehow, it just wasn’t the same. It isn’t just the fact that Czechland lacks the impressive array of retail outlets eager to get you to waste your cash on gaudy tat. It’s the fact that wasting your cash on gaudy tat, as far as Czechman and his family are concerned, is not merely stupid, it is immoral. I am grateful in one sense that I could get away with spending a mere 60kc a head on gifts for his family but remain gobsmacked that Czechman was actually considering buying a special computer monitor cleaning fluid for his parents. ‘But it’s practical,’ he told me when I protested that it was perhaps not the best Christmas gift. My point exactly.
If Christmas is no longer a religious festival then it is an excuse to brighten up the bleak midwinter by celebrating the frivolous, the silly, the tacky, the extravagant. A cleaning spray is none of these things.
3. Avoiding the Prague tourist crush
Prague remains, despite the credit crunch, one of Europe’s mini-break hotspots. Apparently between Christmas and New Year Wencelasus Square and the Old Town are heaving with tourists indulging themselves with mulled wine purchased from one of the little wooden huts that make up the Christmas markets and depressingly sell all the same items you can find in the surrounding tacky gift shops. I wouldn’t know though, as I’m escaping it all by being here in England.
4. Taking a break from the Czech freezing temperatures
Except that I seemed to have failed on this front. The first thing I had to buy on arriving was a big pair of wellies to negotiate all the ice and snow. At least the fact that my flight was delayed for two hours gave me a good excuse to eat a final portion of fruit dumplings. They’re a main course here so you can eat them for your tea, served up with lashings of melted butter, icing sugarand a cheesy substance called quark (tvaroh). Thank god Czech cuisine isn’t all fish head soup…