Tuesday 24th April 2007.
Well, guess where I’ve been, my dearest Diary? Yup, siree, boss, I’m not long back from Prague. It was a bloody close run thing but I made that plane by the skin of my teeth. Thursday morning I woke up to find that my back was slightly better but I still couldn’t walk. Russ was still going; he should have been buzzing with excitement but even for him it had all fallen flat. He had seven nights to face alone in a strange city and he was determined to make the best of it and try and make it a good holiday, but at the same time I think he was daunted by the prospect. I tried so hard not to let my sour grapes show. I truly wanted him to go on his own and have a good time, but at the same time a little bitter bit of me was annoyed that he’d even contemplate going without me. If he’d backed out too, we’d both have lost a fortune, he’d have missed his holiday and it would all have been my fault. So I was glad that he was going.
His taxi was due at twelve o’clock.
By ten I’d crawled out of bed and had a hot bath to try and ease the pain in my back. It did help, I managed to get up on my feet in a fashion but there was no way that I could stand up and walk. I looked like Neanderthal woman.
Mac said that I was going and that I might miss the first couple of days of my holiday lying flat on my back on a hotel bed, ‘But what,’ he asked, ‘if you feel better by Saturday or Sunday, you’ve still got most of your holiday left to enjoy.’ Good point and his next one was even better. He told me straight that left here in pain and bitter as hell over the loss of my holiday, I’d be unbearable to be near. Mac said that if I didn’t go he was buggering off to his mother’s for a few days so that he didn’t get it in the neck every five minutes.
I whined that I couldn’t go now because I’d told Iris that she didn’t have to have Kali for me. Not only that, I’d also explained to Barry when I pulled a sickie the previous night that my holiday was off and that I’d take the weekend off to sort my back out but that I’d be back at work on the Monday, as normal.
‘Oh bollocks to Barry,’ Mac said, ‘what’s he ever done for you?’
‘But I haven’t even been to the bank to get any money?’ I whinged.
‘Well you’ll have to get up off your backside and go and get some now, won’t you? And you’d better get a move on if you’re going to make that taxi at twelve.’
‘But I can’t walk.’ We’d come full circle.
‘Jane,’ Mac said, ‘If I was going on holiday and I’d lost both my legs, I’d crawl out on my stumps rather than miss out.’
‘But, if I’m stuck in bed all the time, I’ll ruin Russ’s holiday, too.’
‘Huh, you’ll ruin it a lot more leaving the poor sod to go on his own.’ And I’d had the morning to think about it, I was getting more petulant by the minute at the thought of Russ going without me. The bastard, how could he?
They were right, it was ridiculous letting a bad back stop me from going on holiday.
I took four paracetamol and two volterol and tried to stand up. I moved very gingerly but found that, after my bath, I could straighten a little bit more than when I’d come downstairs.
‘See,’ they nagged me, ‘it’s already on the mend.’
‘I bet, you’ll be almost back to normal by this time tomorrow.’
I drove into town and had to admit that the pain wasn’t so bad. Walking was difficult, but not impossible and although I had the posture of a ninety year old in a forwards limbo competition, I managed to go to the bank and the chemist to stock up on whatever drugs they could recommend for me to get through the next few hours. Russ went to tell Barry that, despite previous updates, it was now all back on.
I was fretting about stupid things like the fact that I hadn’t cleaned the house. I wanted to change the bed before we left so that it was fresh and clean to come home to. Little things that didn’t matter suddenly became all encompassing, like the fact that I still hadn’t been to pay the phone bill and that I hadn’t washed the kitchen floor.
Never before have I been about to leave the country for a week’s holiday and yet be so unexcited. The drugs had kicked in and I’d straightened even further. But it all felt surreal. I was going to Prague, the city of a hundred spires and yet I might have been nipping to Tesco for a pint of milk. Who'd believe that you could put your back out just bending down to put a can of dog food in the fridge? I do yoga, for God’s sake, my back should be bombproof.
Thursday 12th Day One.
The Taxi came to pick us up bang on time. Even then, at the point of getting into the car, I still didn’t truly believe that I was going to make that holiday. We sat in the middle seats of a minibus and after all the drugs I’d taken I was concerned that they’d react badly against me and cause me to be travel sick. I needn’t have worried the drive was uneventful and I did feel the first stirrings of a little bubble of excitement. I was still pissed off with Russ that he’d been going to go without me.
We had been sent the most boring taxi driver in the country. He had a monotonous voice and droned on and on for the entire journey but he was a nice bloke and was only trying to be pleasant and pass the time. He’d already made the five hour round trip to Manchester Airport twice that day, though at the speed he drove, and considering that it was still only lunchtime, God alone knows how he managed that. Is it legal to drive on the motorway at thirty miles an hour? Luckily we’d given ourselves far more time than we needed to get there. This was mostly due to my paranoia about lost passports, arriving at the wrong terminal, blown tires, a driver with no sense of direction— but he knew the journey like the wrinkles on his willy, I presumed, given his personality, that he was a man who would have very wrinkly bits— exploding bombs, sniffer dogs mistaking my perfume for crack cocaine, and anything else likely to hold us up or stop us getting on that plane.
I haven’t seen Manchester airport for ten years, it was like reacquainting with an old, but unpredictable friend. We found the correct lane for checking in our luggage and did so. The queue was not very long and we’d reached the bored looking man behind the desk within twenty minutes. I was suffering but on a scale of one to ten I was getting away with a very doable three. I had managed to walk well, I was stooped and slow, but the only real problem was that every so often my left hip would buckle and my legs would go from under me causing me to stumble. Other than that I was fine.
At the desk we were told that we hadn’t paid online to have our luggage put through and that came at a hidden cost of twelve pounds fifty. We’d got the holiday at a steal, we were staying at a four star hotel in Prague for seven nights at a cost of about seven hundred quid between us, so we could hardly grumble at that little extra… but we did, we’re British, it comes with the heritage.
Passport control was a breeze; we passed through the X-ray scanners without drama. There were no pings, no bleeps, no intimate body searches and we had made it through to departures. We had four hours to kill and went to the nearest bar. I had a latte and Russ had his first of many holiday beers. I was getting into the holiday spirit but still the ghost of holidays past was sitting beside me clanking canisters of sun tan lotion and warning me not to get carried away because I was not going to leave the country and would sleep in my own bed that night. I’d checked my passport fifty times but still I checked it again, just to make sure that my details hadn’t changed and my photo didn’t show the face of a twenty year old man.
The screens showed that our flight hadn’t been bombed on its previous flight and better yet, was still on time. I had double vodka while we waited to board.
Wow, I couldn’t believe it. I was sitting on a plane. Russ and I fought about the window seat. I won and told him very graciously that he could have it on the way home; he was unimpressed with my generosity. I waited to be told that the plane had gone into early menopause, or something, but very shortly after sitting down the plane was moving. We didn’t even have to put out a call for the family Ramsbottom, the token family on every flight responsible for holding up the plane. I think the family Ramsbottom spend their lives touring national and international airports delaying flights just to cause worldwide anarchy.
Not only did we taxi, but we actually took off. I love the whoosh of the engines when the plane suddenly goes from taxi to Supernova speed and finally tilts up into the air. I was in a plane, on my way to Prague. I couldn’t believe it.
The flight was no frills so we didn’t get an in-flight meal, the drink prices were extortionate, the seats were cramped and uncomfortable but I loved every second of it.
The first glimpse of Prague from my acclaimed window seat prize was spectacular at about twelve thousand feet. It was illuminated and looked like fairyland. I’d expected a small city but as we circled I saw that it was immense and sprawled for many miles below us. We tried to spot something that looked like a castle because we knew our hotel nestled within the ancient walls of the old castle but nothing was identifiable.
We touched down and left the plane on the concourse. I was in Prague. It felt like a miracle, Jesus himself couldn’t have healed me as well as that overdose of painkillers topped up every couple of hours, bugger my kidneys as long as I could walk.
We cleared passport control without being instantly deported and went through to baggage collection. We didn’t have to wait long and our two suitcases trundled along the carrousel next to each other intact and untampered with.
During the long walk through the airport I noticed that it was better than Manchester. The flight had done me no harm and more painkillers washed down with a second double vodka on the plane kept the pain levels at a constant and manageable three on the ouch scale. I thought Prague was an Eastern block country battling post Iron Curtain chaos. Everything seemed so sophisticated. The airport shops glittered with bright things that didn’t look to have come from a deprived, third world economy.
Our plan had always been to tackle public transport to get to our hotel as the internet had warned us that taxi’s were over-priced and public transport very accessible and reasonable. Because of my back we’d ditched this bravado and, after checking that the price given corresponded with the price we’d been told to expect to get us to our hotel, we plunged into the first taxi on the rank. The man didn’t speak English and looked at us blankly as we repeated the name and address of the hotel as clearly as possible. Russ delved into our hand luggage to get the address from the correspondence we’d been sent. Joe Baxi-Man didn’t read English either and shook his head with that international expression of bafflement that we’re all capable of. He went in search of another taxi driver for help. On his return he looked confident and set off at a million miles an hour without giving us another glance or uttering a word.
We did the twelve miles between airport and hotel, right through the busy city centre, in less than fifteen minutes. I loved the drive, it was all so foreign. I tried to engage the driver in some kind of conversation but after my fourth failed attempt to get another word out of the man, I gave up and enjoyed the drive.
He had his radio on and I was so disappointed when the first song to air was the new Robbie Williams song about Madonna. The second song was Shine by Take that. What the hell, we’d travelled to another country; we were sitting in a posh B.M.W with a man who doesn’t speak a word of English. We’d just passed MacDonald’s and Tesco and Take That were singing, in English, on the radio. Mind, I’d be surprised if they were singing in Czech. It had felt foreign coming out of the airport, now, it felt far too much like being at home. I wanted Eastern European quirky charm and instead I was in a taxi that was doing a fair impression of a roller coaster, being thrown around like a sack of grain and my back pain had shot up from a three to a rising seven. The scenery looked like a city, any city, I felt as though I was in Manchester.
We passed briefly through what I thought was town but if you blinked you missed it. We saw some impressive architecture and a pretty river with lots of bridges but most of my focus was on staying something resembling upright and immobile while wondering which of the other mad vehicles on the busy road we were going to collide and crunch metal with.
We left the busier part of town and turned into a ghetto of back streets and tenements. After driving under a final railway bridge the driver pulled to a stop and muttered something that could have been, ‘Jar,’ with an emphatic nod of his head. ‘Jiz, jiz,’ he continued while we sat there looking bewildered. We hadn’t a clue what this Jiz word meant. Isn’t it what a man shoots out of his penis when he’s feeling very pleased to see you. This man didn’t look happy to be with us and I certainly didn’t want to become intimately acquainted with his bodily fluids. Using sign language he made it very clear that it was time that we departed his cab. We just sat there like a pair of British twats, this couldn’t be right. He needed to drive. We were in a grotty backstreet in the middle of bloody nowhere. Where was the quaint fairytale hotel? Where was our medieval castle?
We argued with him, telling him that he’d made a mistake. Despairing of the two stupid Brits refusing to get out of his car, he got out and dumped our suitcases on the pavement. We’d had to pay for the ride in advance, he looked menacing. What choice did we have but to get out? Russ went to tell the man that there’d been some terrible mix-up, a communication breakdown, inter-racial faux par, or a fuck up of gigantic proportions. We were in Mugger’s Sewer Street, yet our hotel was somewhere else, waiting for us in the grounds of a picturesque castle. How could he not see that this was not part of our agreement?
Our displeasure at the less than regal state of our abode was not his problem. He spread his hands, looked at us as though we were demented, said something that I’m sure was less than complimentary and got in his car before speeding off with a screech of tyres and leaving us kissing his dust.
I looked at Russ. Russ looked at me. We both looked at our drunken luggage lying higgledy piggldy on the pavement. I was wondering how to go about getting another taxi when Russ called me to look at a tiny brass plaque on the wall of the nearest building.
The King Charles Superior Residence Hotel.
Oh my God, unless there were two hotels with the same highfaluting name, this was exactly where we were supposed to be. Part of me was actually relieved that we didn’t have to walk any further. By this point my back was screaming at me. I’d made ridiculous demands on it while it had been trying its best to hold me up and cause me the minimum amount of pain and embarrassment possible. I sensed imminent rebellion in my temperamental lumbar disks.
I admit that I wasn’t impressed on first impressions. Luckily, I’m one of those rare people that don’t demand a lot from a holiday hotel. To me, the better the hotel is the longer you want to spend in it and that defeats the point of a holiday. All I ask is a clean bed and enough hot water to bath when I want to, those two things hadn’t been denied me yet. I took a last look at the street that wouldn’t be out of place in Little Beirut while Russ opened the door. To be fair, the hotel itself was the best building on the street. It was clean and the little brass plaque gleamed. All the windows were clean and as building frontages go it was an unremarkable wall of okayness. The rest of the street was horrible. The filthy row of terraced buildings were a million feet tall with enough storeys to house the population a middle to large country. It looked like Gangsta Boulevard.
Where was my fairytale castle with all of its spires and turrets?
I’d expected a Bavarianesque castle with acres of grounds and our beautiful gothic hotel nestled in its shadow. I wanted to see stay-up-at-night peacocks and herds of roaming deer. I wanted trees and fountains and opulence. I had an imposing door with a pretentious plaque. No photo opportunities there then.
Oh well, when in Prague….