#16: Learn to speak a random language

For the last fortnight I have been listening to Pimsleur’s Czech in the car whenever I go anywhere. With the result that I can now confidently say excuse me, hello, yes, no, thank you, goodbye, and ‘I understand Czech very well’. That last is unlikely to get me into a helpful situation.

What I really need is ‘Can I hire 5 sets of skis for 8 days’; ‘Where is the nearest beer spa?’ and ‘Get me 3 hot chocolates for these feral infants and fast, please’. But maybe that will be covered in lesson 7.

For now though, here we are, and I have the chance to test my linguistic prowess on some real people. It has produced very mixed results! Some are delighted that I trouble to greet and thank them in their own language. Great. Others are openly irritated at the impossibility of communicating with me at all – my few words sadly don’t get us very far, and when they default to German, (in Czech minds the universal language), they find I am pretty poor at that too. The third response, and my favourite, is undisguised derision. Several people have burst into peels of laughter and summoned their friends to come and hear the freak show.

Arriving at our hostel and home for the week, I attempted to ask someone ‘Mluveti Anglitsky?’ (do you speak English?). Both he and the 4 women within earshot laughed so hard they may well have soiled themselves. Possibly my accent turned the question into ‘Do you blow goats?’ or similar. That is always a risk.

But today I was delighted to ask directions in Czech and have my question understood. A breakthrough. Never mind that the response was incomprehensible, it was the nearest I have come to a conversation.

And it will have to be good enough to tick that one off the list, because I am not sure I have the energy to take my Czech endeavours much further!

#15: Drive across Europe at night

I put this on the list myself, as it addresses quite a number of my limitations. For me, driving at all is far from comfortable; and driving in the dark is mildly alarming. Driving on the wrong side of the road is very alarming, while driving an unknown route somewhere I have never been before brings us into the realm of naked terror. So, time to put it all together, and get on with it!

And so we did. We entered the Eurotunnel about 7pm, with the poorly formed ‘plan’ to drive all night by turns. Since it should take 10.5 hours to reach our destination, we ought to be in the mountains of the Czech Republic for an early breakfast. That was without reckoning on the vagaries of the sat nav, (which took us a circuitous route adding 2 hours to the journey). And then there was the unscheduled stop at a Belgian A and E department, in desperate search of any medication that could stop our youngest from screaming that her ear hurt. It is hard to convey the level of desperation that had overtaken our vehicle after 2 hours of this. The first packing oversight was revealed. I can see the Calpol sitting in the medicine cupboard at home. Why didn’t I put it in the bag? Why? Why?

We had to wait an hour and a half, but eventually left the Clinique Notre Dame in triumphant possession of some children’s Nurofen. It was by then 11.30 pm. We’d been going 5+ hours and were still in Belguim. Not good. I drove for another hour, handed over, Dave lasted til 2.30am. Then I bolted a coffee, resumed my shift, and managed to drive another 3 hours, crossing much of Germany, with the rest of the family slumbering all around, and ‘Pimsleur’s Guide to speaking Czech’ on the cd player. Congratulating myself on my quite brilliant efficiency. (A shame not to be knitting the socks as well, but probably wiser not to).

I did feel quite a weighty responsibility, alone at the wheel, everyone else sleeping peacefully, with no idea where I was taking them or quite how many fast-moving lorries I was negotiating. The whole experience was strangely very calm, in stark contrast to the family life of our waking hours.

By 6am I handed back, very happy to be able to tick that one off. Though I suppose we still have to get home somehow next week.

#14: Pack to go on holiday entirely by myself

Well, the job is done, although the whole project has been riddled with errors from beginning to end.  If we reach our destination at all it will be a minor miracle, never mind with any of the correct equipment.

We are readying ourselves for the most low budget ski holiday on record.  The plan is to drive to the Czech Republic, with a boot full of food and borrowed equipment, stay in an insalubrious bunkhouse, and hope to find somewhere with enough snow to throw ourselves down a few hills.   So the packing is critical: success or failure can be sealed by seemingly small details like forgetting the children’s warm gloves. 

A significant complication is the uncertainty of what we might find when we get there.  Most of the information about the area that I have found is in Czech, and despite my best efforts at learning a random language (#16), I have not deciphered much of value.  And although we are billing it as a ski holiday, the presence of snow is far from guaranteed, so we also need to be equipped for a week’s worth of other activities just in case.   And it all needs to be loaded in such a fashion that we can reach the essentials during a 15 hour drive as needed.

So.  Ski kit for 5; normal clobber; plus kit for all the activities that might come into play if the snow doesn’t materialise.  Plus all the additional kit for the various challenges that I hope to achieve while away – knitting needles and wool, Bananaman outfit…   Then 2 crates of Lidl’s finest tinned produce, to ensure that 3 fussy eaters will be sufficiently nourished to ski for a week, if the snow does indeed present (Czech goulash and dumplings are unlikely to play out well for us). Then there are all the child related sundries that transform the whole thing from an ordeal into a slightly more manageable ordeal –games, books, a sackful of pens and paper, soft toys…  Though all the planning is somewhat misplaced in this regard.   The greatest sources of entertainment for our children are highly portable, and always available, namely: getting naked, and farting loudly.  Armed with those two options, they can never be bored.   (Over the last 6 years, we have taken them swimming, biking, climbing, and skating; shown them cinemas, theatres, pantomime; travelled on trains, planes, buses, and escalators; shared stories, films, puzzles, games, and toys of every description.  We have still found nothing that diverts them quite so royally as their own flatulence.) 

But I digress.  I had most of the bags packed a day early, so come the morning of departure all felt reasonably under control.  Until 8am, when Eva presented with a urine infection, at about the same time as the esteemed Turisticka Ubytovna SJ Slavoj emailed to alert me to an ‘administrative error’, meaning our hostel was expecting us 2 days later than we intended.


2 hours of panic, phone calls, doctor’s appointment and internet research ensued…. But we ultimately left as planned, with substitute hotel booked, and antibiotics secured. 

It hasn’t been the toughest of packing challenges – without tent or camping equipment there is no problem fitting everything in.  The alarming bit is shouldering the sole responsibility for whatever we may have forgotten.  But at least I have put in the coffee pot; that improves the chance of forgiveness for whatever errors will shortly be uncovered.