Remember when we could just… go to a place? “Fuck it,” I said, fifteen years ago. “I’m off somewhere.” Then I went online and worked out that Easy Jet was doing cheap flights to Prague. £36 return I think it was. It’s fine if you don’t mind where you end up or where you sleep. Definitely easier alone without anyone worrying about uncontrollables. If it’s just you, you’re only responsible for yourself, and if you’re happy anywhere then the only negativity – the voice that says “we should’ve done x” – is silent, as is the voice that says “we should book accommodation in advance just to be safe”. So long as it’s different, I’m happy as larry, and in a city there’s always somebody that wants your money for a bed. And I’m lucky, as I’m tall and male. I can be a bit loose.

Cheap sleep bumps it all up a bit nevertheless. I ended up in a hotel for peanuts. Restaurants bump it up a bit more. Sure you can eat out of supermarkets, and you do, but evening restaurants are part of the joy for me. I’ll sit with a good book eating posh dumplings by the river, and get another glass of red at the end of the meal. And with all this I reckon three days in Prague didn’t set me back more than £300 all in back then, and that involved buying two bottles of wormwood absinthe and checking a bag both ways to smuggle them home. I need to go back, as the absinthe is long gone now – replaced by memories and poems. I had a rule – no more than two in a sitting. Two is peak wormwood. You hit the flow. Any more and the writing is replaced by a haze that stops thought. But I forget – I’m sober these days… Perhaps in a year or so…

My jaunt back then also involved going to The Mucha Museum and buying 4 prints. I must have just finished a job to be so profligate. It was winter, as I recall. I bought four art deco ladies. The times of the day. Colorful and decorative. And a very impractical shape. I got them home, failed to find any clip frames the right size, drank the absinthe, wrote bad poems and forgot about the prints.

Occasionally I’d find them when moving things around and think “oh, I should get them framed”. Then I’d forget about them again. Framing is another of these luxurious things that costs too much for what it is. I didn’t have the headspace. So the seasons shifted round.

About a month ago, with no alcohol and no work to kill the thinking moments, I resolved to get them up at long last, these attractive symbols of my independence. The internet is better now for finding weird frames even as it’s worse for cheap last minute flights. I researched a clip frame the right size for all 4 of them together. I put it on my credit card. It arrived last week. Today I finally put the pictures into the frame. They fit perfectly, which is a relief as even the clip frame was over the odds in price. I swear I’m going to teach myself framing and get the kit to do it once there’s room in my home and in my mind.

When I finally do put them up – (I haven’t yet) – they’ll remind me of that effortless freedom of movement we used to have, of which we are not even at liberty to enjoy the death throes because of Covid. Because it’s just a month away, this looming catastrophe of ambition. This attempt to make us the UAE of Northern Europe, that so far is just making us the pariah. This conflicting mess, buoyed up by the shouting of unhappy people who have bought the lie that their unhappiness is because of foreigners. And now we’re all going to be stuck here and we’ll find out where you shift the blame next. Artists, most likely. Bloody entitled liberal artist types who go to stupid places like Prague just for a cultural change of scene.

Prague is definitely unusual. Quirky. Stoic, dour, grey but edgy and with deep hidden colour. The second languages tend to be Polish and German. Like the French they pretend to speak less English than they do, but unlike the French they don’t understand French. My shopping German was more helpful than my decent French, and my sign language more helpful than my English, but I expected that – it was not my first time in Prague. I muddled by. I went to puppet theatre and sat for ages by a long grey flat unfamiliar Vitava. I ate dumplings with gravy and meat, or cabbage with dumplings and meat gravy, or meat gravy dumplings with cabbage. And I don’t think I really spoke to anyone but for directions or practicality. I remember my hackles rising at a few familiar accents, and I recall avoiding large groups of people about my age who sounded a bit like me. I walked a lot. I thought a lot. I was in Prague and that was enough to keep me happy for three days.

There is so much world. I want to spin the globe and stick a finger in again. I used to carry my passport with me in my inside pocket, just in case I decided to go to the airport instead of home. I stopped doing that when I just kept going home and my passport got dog-eared. I think it was more about the romance than the intention. But man I have the intention now it’s not possible. Oh the world. The big big world.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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