Day 2 - Tuesday, 9th June 2009: A Town Called Elbow, the Rebirth Churchwarden and Late-night Scrabble.
I woke up on the Tuesday with the most curious sensation that I was either dead or dying. There was a hangover, certainly, and it was certainly going to be harsh, but this was more of an out-of-body feeling, somewhere between a dream and being fully woken. Around me, BigBro and his girlf were bustling about, getting ready to go to their jobs as English teachers, passing from bathroom to living room to bedroom in an attempt to dress, wash and eat at the same time (y'know... the morning routine) as I lay there, face down on the sofa, in a post-lobotomy limbo.
Soon, the chat seemed to fade, and it took me a while to realise that I was alone again. I lay there, in my weird stupor, enjoying the quiet, and sort of fell asleep again. I say sleep, but I could hear the birds outside, and the noises of children playing in the street, so some part of me must have been awake. I could see myself lying there, face down on the sofa, the flowery bedspread over me, and my silly canoe feet sticking out at the far end.
It was like when you go into a shop and see yourself on the cctv monitor, from a different angle. Except this time, it was a bit more like Big Brother, or some weird avant garde student short film. I tried to move, and could see my own leg shift slightly. It was fascinating. Kinda like watching The Fountain whilst very very very stoned, or watching a spider build a web. I had completely forgotten that I wasn't in Dublin, and it wasn't until I heard some old crone screeching in Czech outside the window that I remembered where I was.
Soon, of course, I had spent about four hours doing this, and as I watched, I saw my brother come through the door and was forced to make some attempt to appear alive. A wash, a cup of tea and a lunch roll revived me a little, and I was able to regain the power of speech and recollect on the previous night's happenings. BigBro wasn't exactly looking like the picture of health, but we were determined and before I knew it, I was walking with sea legs out to BigBro's car, trying desperately not to fall off my shoes.
BigBro has two cars, given to him by his job. Both are Skodas, and both have names. Today, we were riding in Bryn, on the first rainy day they had had in about three weeks (Irish = bring bad weather with you). Being a modern sort of chap, Bryn only had a tape deck, or dodgy Czech public radio, and the only tape BigBro had was Take That's Greatest Hits. I obviously made quite a lot of jokes about this, but within three minutes was doing my best funboy dance to the strains of Could it be Magic? as passing drivers stared at the two weirdos out for a Tuesday noon-time jaunt. The hangover was pretty bad. My stomach felt like a walnut and my eyesight had a permanent magic-eye effect going on, so Bro thought it would be good to get some food.
The Czech people love a few staples of food. Chief amongst them are Meat & Dumplings, Goulash and Pickled Cabbage, which they eat ALL THE TIME. Yum. (NB: I may have just used a lolcat there in that last link, and the feeling for having done so is approximate to having a failed wank)
We went into a weird ranch-style place, and soon the fear descended upon me. Of course, all the men and women conformed to the Czech standard of bouncer-esque men and statuesque ladies. The place was so amazingly New European that I was really surprised that no-one was naked and having loads of sex, as the background music, the people and hell, even the decor seemed mildly...porny.
The bric-a-crap beloved of Irish pubs was all there; threshing handtools, bridle pieces for horses, saddles, old instruments and of course the oversized radios that look like tables. With all the crazy shit on the walls, the gorgeous ladies, the scary men and the mental oversized radios, my neck was almost cricked right off. Not to mention the cat. There was this huge tortoiseshell, (obviously the mascot, or the owner's pet, and probably beloved by all and sundry) stalking between the tables and looking at everyone eat. When I wasn't falling in love with the waitresses, or trying to see if my feet were still attached (they were) I could see this malicious cat just stalking closer and closer, like a horrible black cloud. I tried desperately not to burst into tears over my Meat & Dumplings (with 2 types of dumpling, and approx. 9lbs of starch per portion) and chugged my sparkling water like a dead man walking as the malicious little fucker came closer. BigBro (who was in the bathroom) would have laughed at my feline-induced freak out, but I was very hungover, and my wee mind wasn't working too hard. As I sat there, for some reason my arm twitched, and BigBro's glass was knocked over. I'm pretty sure it was me, but I don't know how it happened.
Later, having not died, and having eaten my share of starchy dumplings. We got back in the car and headed off once more the the sounds of Want You Back. The rain was pretty heavy and as we drove, BigBro pointed out the little huts and the ladies outside them (yay, hookers!) and also all the wee gypsie shops, selling icons and Christmas decorations (in June). At one point he stopped for a turn-off, between the path of two crossing lorries, with a half-jellyfish hungover freak-victim in the car beside him. This fear (of truck-induced death) cleared my head more than any starch OD, or even my own favourite hangover cure of a shot of tabasco, or the tawdry glances at cheap prostitutes and turned me back into Conor again. Adrenaline pumping, and mind now fixed, we sped along the windiest roads in Chrisendom towards our destination, Loket.
Loket (or 'Elbow') is one of the few places in the world that seems almost automatically defensible in the event of a Z-virus outbreak. It also set the scene for Casino Royale by masquerading as Montenegro. Other than that there was really not much to the place. We arrived to the genius of Lulu and Co. belting out Relight My Fire somewhat scared by the crazy twisty car-journey and the hangovers, walked across the bridge and into the square. There were a disproportionate amount of little cafés and closed shops and the place was entirely empty. We walked along, looking for somewhere to sit and have a coffee, but everywhere seemed closed and depressed. As we turned around to go back to the car, BigBro pointed at a shop and told me to go in, a barely concealed smile on his face.
It was without a doubt the SADDEST SHOP IN THE WORLD. It looked like the set of a crappy student production of a Chekov play; all empty shelves and grey light. There was a solitary apple on the counter, and in the little chewing gum racks was a sole packet of Orange Orbit. Yes, they make it in orange flavour apparently. The woman in the shop looked like she didn't quite know how everything had gone wrong, or as if she thought she had a babybell in the fridge only to discover someone had eaten it. So very, very sad. I tried not to laugh...then realised that I was sad. The shop was sad...sad sad sad (NB: Might be saying 'sad' too much) I quickly grabbed the (lonely) packet of gum and when I gave her a few coins, she looked almost surprised that I wanted to purchase something from her. I left...feeling a tad empty, to find BigBro laughing heartily at my shocked expression.On the bridge back to the car, we played some games like Walking Game, Being on Bridge Game and Spitting From Bridge Game. I was still pretty deadened from Sad Susan.
On the way back from Elbow, I saw a sign that made me laugh gleefully for about 10 minutes. Globus!!
We went inside and while Bro was showing me around the (many!) ketchup aisles, the separate wine and beer sections, the fruit counter (and adjacent auto-parts region) and the rows upon rows of pickled meats. It very confusing. I saw a pipe shop, and, in honour of my New Year's hobby (which is also a shameful secret), I decided to buy a lovely churchwarden pipe. It only took a few hours for her to bag it up and take my cash, during which time the queue had swelled from me and BigBro to a load of surly Czech chaps. The whole ordeal of point, say 'please', give money and take bag had turned into a horrible joke.
We got back to the casa and sat, exhausted from our day. I was still a bit hungover, shocked by the sad lady and happy about my new pipe. We watched some great videos from home, really making us proud to be Irish. When BigBro's girlf came back, we played Scrabble for 100 hours (I'm really shit at it btw) and I read my horrible secret for a while before going to sleep, ready for my trip to Prague the next day.