Monday, 28 October 2013
The opinion polls said it would happen, but no one could quite believe it when it did. Voting for them was like watching Nova TV, no one actually admitted doing it but numbers never lie. The communists had won enough votes for it to be impossible to form a government without them. Just a mere 24 years after the Velvet revolution the communists were back in government.
Now you might think that like in other ex Eastern Bloc members, the communists had reformed and become members of the mainstream with just moderate commie tendencies. You’d be wrong. These were unapologetic, unrepentant, die-hard commies who harked back to the good old days of Gottwald and Husak.
It wasn’t long before they were back to their old tricks, the minority party in the coalition they might have been, but that didn’t stop them from slicing off bits of power like salami, just as they had done in the immediate post-war years. They soon controlled the ministry of home affairs and the defence ministry, storm clouds were gathering.
I thought they were just silly rumours at first when people began to talk about disappearances; people being taken from their beds at night, people disappearing from shopping centres in broad daylight. It was when my boss disappeared without warning, without a trace that it began to get real.
The Party, as they were now known, were under pressure from international human rights to explain these disappearances. They put out a statement saying that a number of legal arrests had been made against people who had been found guilty of being enemies of the state. The wording and tone were ominous. They put out a further statement saying other traitors and foreigners would be rounded up in ‘due course’ There was a general feeling that ‘due course’ meant immediately. There were already rumours of international companies being closed down. I felt a heavy stone in my stomach; this country felt more like my home than anywhere else, but it was time for me to get out. Or was it? Should I stay and face the music like the others who had no choice. Was I a rat deserting a sinking ship? Take the good times, but leave as soon as the going gets tough.
The problem was I was a foreigner, an obvious enemy of the state, that meant I implicated everyone I spoke to. If things went the way they were heading, all my friends, my lovers and my colleagues could be arrested just for knowing me. I would be signing their jail sentences or even their death penalty. I had to go and I had to go now. I put as many things into a suitcase as I could and left my flat.
The streets had become a different place, they seemed to be greyer, grimmer. People went about their business with long faces and heavy hearts. Heavily armed police were on all corners, checking papers and talking urgently into their radios. I scuttled towards the tram stop trying to look as inconspicuous as any man could when burdened down with luggage.
The train station was different too, the tramps and waifs and strays that called it their home had been cleared away, Burger King was closed due to ‘technical reasons’. There were police everywhere. It had taken on an austere look, gone back in time. I bought my ticket in my best Czech, who knew who was who, who was listening, who was talking. A one way ticket to Vienna, from there who knew? I boarded the train looking at the ticket, promising myself that I would work from the outside to save the country I’d called my home for so long.
As we pulled out of the station I felt a sense of relief, a sense of guilty, a sense of sadness and a sense of anger; true mixed feelings I suppose. In a little under 3 and a half hours I’d be in Austria.
But just after Brno, the train guard’s voice came over the tannoy.
‘We inform you that the border to Austria is now closed. We will be terminating at Breclav. Please have your papers ready for full inspection.’
I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. This was bad. This was very bad.
Friday, 25 October 2013
Steve sipped his pint and looked around the room, it was pretty quiet for a Wednesday. He tapped his fingers quietly on the table as he waited for Johnny to come back from the loo.
He was so glad he was out of the house tonight. He absolutely knew Ronnie would be watching the final of the ‘Great British Bake Off’. Steve hated all of these cookery competitions but this one took the biscuit, or the cake or the falpjack. Cookery competitions seemed to be ubiquitous and they were all more or less the same. At any given time you could turn on the TV to see someone crying because their soufflé hadn’t risen or their rock cakes were more like the former than the latter.
Johnny came back and sat down taking a good swig of beer as he did.
‘Quiet in here tonight.’ Johnny said as he threw some peanuts towards his mouth, most of them missing.
‘Everyone’s watching that damn cookery show I should imagine.’
‘Oh yeah it’s the final tonight isn’t it? Who do you want to win?’
‘Frankly I don’t know, and I don’t care. I just don’t know what people see in it.’
‘Nah nor me really, Abi’s hooked of course.’
‘So is Ronnie, it’s all she talks about at the moment. But I just don’t get it, watching other people bake, how boring is that? And then... and then you don’t even get to try it. At least when I watch Ronnie cook I get to sample the wares. It just seems odd to me.’
Johnny nodded along in total agreement.
‘And all the drama that goes with it. All the ‘it’s been my lifelong dream’, ‘it’s all I’ve ever wanted’ bullshit. Cos that is what it is, bullshit how can it have been a lifelong dream? The show’s only been on the TV for few years and who the fuck dreams of being a baking champion anyway? And the tears, surely there are more important things in life than a bloody cake, when did tears become a essential ingredient of television? They should just judge them on how well they cry not on how well they bake. The Great British Cry Off.’
‘You’re preaching to the converted mate, I agree with you.’ Johnny hoped his agreement would shut Steve up, but it didn’t.
‘I mean let them have their contest, fine, I'm sure some of the recipes are great, but they are making mountains out of cup cakes.’
Johnny smiled and was about to speak but Steve got there first.
‘I’ll tell you what it is, it’s roughly 1 hour of footage stretched out to fill 11 hours of the schedule. It’s bubble gum TV; all flavour but no substance. Cheap TV promoted to the hilt so everyone is talking about it, making it seemingly much more interesting than it is. They were talking about it on the news today, the bloody national news.’
Johnny looked at his empty glass and waved it in front of Steve. Steve got the message, finished his own beer and headed to the bar with the two empties still shaking his head indignantly.
Posted by Gareth at 09:14
Thursday, 24 October 2013
Billy loved Bras.
He was fascinated by them. He loved nothing more than to see a bra through a top, to catch sight of a strap on a shoulder, or to see a glimpse of material from a sloppy neckline. Bras were like ornamental treasure chests (if you excuse the pun), functional, yet beautiful and containing untold riches of all different shapes and sizes. Billy would spend hours trying to guess the colours of bras of the women he saw in the street, red, white, black, patterned, he’d mutter to himself. Of course he never found out if he was right, but there was no harm in guessing. And it was this love of bras that drove Billy to dream up one of the biggest social media scams in history.
It was the 9th January 2010 that Billy posted his meme on Facebook; A picture of a pink ribbon with the words. ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Day– Update your status with the colour of your Bra.’ He selected special groups to post it in, things like Mum’s net, Cosmopolitan and others like it. Billy didn’t really expect anything to come of it but within minutes the picture was being shared and shared again. Then they started appearing, update after update, colour after colour.
white, red, black, beige, polkadot, purple.
Billy was in heaven.
It wasn’t long before the naysayers and the killjoys were out in force.
‘There’s no such thing as Breast Cancer awareness day.’
‘This is just a creepy con, don’t fall for it.’
But it seemed that women all over the world were willing to ignore the spoilsports and join in with the fun.
It had even managed to get itself on the six o’clock news. Billy’s practical joke had become national news! They were interviewing someone from a cancer charity; a woman in her 30s.
‘We have no idea how this started and to the best of our knowledge this is not an official cancer charity.’ She looked stern, Billy was beginning to worry, maybe he shouldn’t have chosen such a serious issue for such a flippant game.
‘However, we are delighted with the response it has got. Today people are talking about breast cancer. Our site has had more traffic today than in a usual month. Awareness, education and vigilance are crucial weapons in the fight against this terrible disease, not to mention fund raising. So whoever did this, thank you – and by the way - navy blue.’
Billy almost fell off his chair.
Posted by Gareth at 09:58
Wednesday, 23 October 2013
Vinny put a large gin and tonic down in front of his sister and a glass of champagne in front of Eleanora and then went back to the bar for his own drink. He’d been watching his sister from the bar as he ordered the drinks. She was good. Even here she was aware there were rich men around who she could persuade to part company with their money. The way she flicked her hair, smiled and laughed were all carefully crafted to attract the casual onlooker.
She was telling the story of her latest conquest, some poor mug called Salim who was begging her to go to Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan or somewhere.
‘You’re just a posh hooker really’ Vinny teased her.
Belinda bristled, she hated when Vinny called her that but she had to be careful knowing what Eleanora’s former profession was.
‘I’m not a hooker, I don’t sleep with them for money, I sleep with them cos they’re fit, the sex is a perk.’
Vinny smiled ‘You just be careful. One of these days you are gonna get into trouble.’
‘Never!’ Belinda flashed her professional smile, a smile that Vinny was sure could get her off the hook even if she did get caught.
‘And anyway hark who’s talking,’ it was Belinda’s turn to tease and Vinny’s turn to bristle. I’m not the one who nearly got killed, by his own boss, twice.’
Vinny put his arms out, ‘but I’m still here aren’t I?
Vinny wasn’t the only one impressed by Belinda’s smile. Temur watched her closely. He could see why Selim had fallen so hopelessly in love; she had everything. But Temur was armed with the knowledge that she was a heartless, thieving bitch which made him immune to her charms, or did it? Temur pressed a button on his phone and sent a text message that simply read ‘Found her.’
Selim read the message and smiled. Since the ‘no show’ at the airport he’d had worked tirelessly to track her down. He’d called in all the favours he could. He wasn’t going to let her get away scot-free and with his contacts and his money he knew he’d find her. She obviously thought that she was toying with some amateur but she didn’t know what she had let herself in for. He knew he would find her, the only problem was what to do now that he had; he didn’t know if to shoot her or marry her. People who crossed him usually ended up dead but people who crossed him didn’t have that beautiful smile. He threw the phone in the air and caught it and then started to make arrangements. He needed to get on a plane as soon as possible.
Find part 4 here and part 5 here
Find part 4 here and part 5 here
Posted by Gareth at 07:42
Tuesday, 22 October 2013
Dale clutched the tea towel to his wrist as tightly as he could to try to stem the flow of blood. The knife had gone in pretty deep and he knew he had to get himself to a hospital before it was too late. He dialled 999 and waited patiently for the ambulance to come. He was such an idiot. It was only after he felt the stabbing pain and saw the blood that he’d realised just what he was doing and just how stupid he’d been.
The doctor who patched him up was as kind as you like but he could tell she didn’t believe his story. But it was true! Dale had been in a hurry, he needed the chopping board out of the dishwasher and in reaching for it had sliced his wrist open on the sharp knife that was blade up in cutlery basket. Although in the end they said they believed him, as he left the hospital the nurse gave him a phone number to call just in case. When he got home he dropped the leaflet in the trash, knowing full well he’d not be needing it. Why would he? It was just a silly accident.
In work they were more willing to accept his story. He didn’t try to hide his bandage; he knew he had nothing to be ashamed of. He told his story with humour and drama. His colleagues knew how clumsy he was so it was certainly plausible and on the other hand the story seemed so far-fetched that surely no one could make it up. And anyway, Dale was always smiling, there’s no way he’d want to kill himself.
Dale walked home with a spring in his step. The thing that had struck him was just how nice everyone was. When he showed them his bandages there was genuine concern in their eyes and their voices. Everyone had bought his story and …there were times when he had almost believed it himself. Now he needed to take that goodwill home with him.
The days had always been easier; it was the nights that were the problem. It was at night when 'accidents' could happen. When he got home he riffled through the rubbish digging out the pamphlet the nurse had given him. It was time to make a change.