It’s family holiday time in the Czech Republic. The neighbouring out-of-town high rise estates where my in-laws have improved slightly in some respects as some grey brutalist communist-era towersblocks have been insulated and refaced with a splash of pastel colours in the years following EU membership, althhough such refurbishment now seems to have slowed. There is also a very nice ‘muti-generational playground’ with a pirate theme just near the local football pitch, which – innovatbively – even has an exercise corner for seniors although there were no pensioners in evidence and precious few kids around on the cold Sunday morning we were there. The local mayor is a leading light on the Greens regional list for the forthcoming eletions, I was interested to discover. She doesn’t seem to be have been able to have done much about the ubiquitous graffiti on every available wall and dogshit on every availablle grass verge though. What’s the Czech for pooper scooper?
Traipsing between tower blocks is no fun, so we quickly drive off to country. Having invested a 40 minutes being passed from queue to queue and counter to counter in the local post-office to buy a 10 day motorway vignette, we take full advantage of the empty, new motorway to Kroměřiž – part of slow, corrupt and not-likely-to-be-completed-any-time-somm road expansion and upgrading programme. The proverbial road to nowhere.
The kids eat ice cream sundae in spa town of Luhačovice. I have backache and want to buy some ibuprofen. This means locating the local pharmacy, as the idea that so much as an aspirin on sale anywhere is anathama. Eventually, I get there and get a packet for three times the price they would cost at my local Tesco in England. Frustrating? Not half. With the collapsing pound, the Czech Republic is expensive as well as rather overregulated by British standards. Apparantly, Czech pharmacies have fought an effective rearguard lobbying action to hang on to their retail monpoly. On the other hand, perhaps I am too quick to think it is a basic human right to buy anything at knock down prices at the nearesr hypermarket.
My holiday reading, The Spirit Level,
does a good job of popularizing academic finding that more equal market democracies have a better quality of life and fewer social and health problems – although I am less convinced by some of the evolutionary pyschology about status anxiety used to fillin the blanks and policy recommendations are the end some fairly tired and unimginative social democratic prescriptions like employer share ownership, co-operatives and municipal enterprises- worthy and probably quite effective, but frankly the political equivalent of a dose of ibuprofen.
Time was I knew the bookshops of Brno like the back of my hand. These days, however, I hardly ever stick my nose over the threshold of a knihkupectví, but instead spend a lot of time at zoos, children’s theatre and riding the city’s public transport system with my tram-crazy offspring. Today, we head to the Divadlo Polarka to see a performace of the classic Czech (well, izvinytye actually Russian) children’s favourite Mrazík. The theatre foyer is packed with surpisingly unruly school groups, who make up the children’s theatre’s clientele, supervised by an implausibly small number of teachers, who are good deal less fierce and imposing than the dragon remembered by wife from the 1970s when kids had to say ‘Yes, comrade’ instead of ‘Yes miss’ in class. Coincidently, Czech news magazine Respekt reports that Czech parenting has become considerly more liberal since the mid-1990s, leaving schools struggling to cope with more loud and assertive generatio ns of kids, who are a whole lot less cowed by authority.
Eventually, we get a seat – although it is 10am in the morning and the second performance of the day – the Polarka’s actors put in a fantastic performance with perfectly co-ordinated music, acrobatics, rapid scene changes and great story telling that knocks the average English panto into a cocked hat.
Brno zoo is a bit of a disappointment, but the new refurbished Anthropological museum Anthropos with its papier mache cave people and life-sized model mammoth is a much more interesting proposition.