The Czech Republic is, as ever, distinctly short of things for children to do in the summer. So the only real option when the weather’s hot – and bar a few thunderstorms it has been continually sunny – is to head for the local open air swimming pool: health and safety and the big leisure department of big councils have pretty much eliminated the local lido as phenomenon in England. You can find them, of course, especially in nooks and crannies of London boroughs, but they are curiosities hidden away or forgotten about or turned into urban lakes where swimming is definitely not on the agenda.
Not so the Czech Republic. Despite tougher hygiene regulations pretty much every municipality has its koupaliště
and they are still a firm fixture of any Czech summer. Indeed, so much Civic Democrat leader Miroslav Topolánek, is kicking off his campaign to get acquainted with the voters of South Moravia – where he will head his party’s list – with a tour of local koupáky
just to convince all and sundry that he is a normal down-to-earth Czech bloke on his second marriage and not
a corrupt, sleazy politician who hangs out with lobbyists for big electricity companies and spin doctors on expensive yachts in Italy awhen not walking around in the buff on Silvio Berlusconi’s poolside. Perish the thought.
It’s a clever strategy. Unlike Klaus – who can wow and work a crowd and charm opponents, but whose efforts to join the victorious Czech football team and be one of the lads was one of the more excruciating things I remember seeing on Czech TV – the Ordinary Bloke role is one Topolánek can do very well. Equally, cleverly there’s no need to do much politics: no party programme (as yet) to defend and no big billboard campaign to annoy people and remind them they’ll have to go and: just the occasional swim or game of volleyball in lidos and sports grounds across various factory towns interspered with a bit of well publicized cycling between locations (taking the limo for the hilly bits, you understand). And, of course, Topol’s change of scene also leaves Karel Schwarzenberg – staring down lugubriously down from posters everywhere like some kind of aristocratic Big Brother – and the very boouent TOP09 party a free run in Prague, where they are likely to do well and, where, conincidentally Topolánek’s main party rivals are based.
Our own tour of Moravia also takes in every koupák
and swimming lake (otevřené koupalište
) for miles around- we even drive across the border into Slovakia and sample Trenčin’s large and clean municipal kupalisko
sandwiched between fooball stadium, castle and main railway line – although less political reasons than to ensure the kids have something to do. We end, as we began, with the municipal lido in Starý Liskovec , the village on the outskirts of Brno long, which has since swallowed up by the high rise housing estate of Nový Liskovec built in the mid-70s. And, on balance, it is probably actually the best one. Not as clean Trenčin. Slightly less to do for kids, than some of the lidos renovated by ambitious mayors in increasingly sleek and prosperous looking villages around Uherský Brod. And certainly rather less genteel than in spa town of Luhačovic. It’s no high rise ghetto, but most people who could afford to do so have long since moved out of the estate and the pool attracts poorly off people who don’t have the money, time or paid holiday to go elsewhere. Much to my mother-in-law’s disapproval, there are chuge louds of cigarette smoke rising up in the air from the poolside area, as if there was some small factory there. Still, it’s shady; there’s enough space to swim in the main pool; the children’s pool has enough squirtly fountains to please the kids and they do do excellent hotdogs.
I keep my eyes peeled, half watching the kids, half wondering if Topolánek will turn up. Perhaps he has already turned up, incognitio? There is a bloke who looks a bit like him sitting on the lilo on the other side of the pool. But then again, he is reading the crime page of left-wing daily Právo, where would probably be a step too far even for this new style of low-key, politics-free summer election non-campaign.