Well, that’s that: one-third of my holiday allowance for the year used up by the first day in March. But, really, I can’t complain, having had an utterly fabulous time, both in America (12 days) and Prague (4 days). The reason for this sudden burst of activity was two-fold: an Evening Standard/Daily Mail offer of half-price flights, and the likelihood that, with the Millennium approaching, the company will nail everyone to their seats from about June on. And both holidays were wonderful, albeit in different ways, and indeed, different climates, even if the activities carried out were perhaps not always those of which the Daily Mail might approve…

There is something very, very nice about going from cold, damp and miserable Tulse Hill to somewhere like Phoenix, where the temperature is in the high 70’s, and an outdoor pool is a viable option. In a few weeks, it will no doubt be unbearably hot (as tales of bags of ice cubes being dumped into the pool attest), but at the time, it was unutterably fabulous.

I won’t go on at great length about it all, because much of the activity therein was, while great fun to me, doesn’t exactly make for gripping writing, though eating Hatch Valley Chilli was an experience that will live with me for some time, particularly if I see any nuclear explosion on TV. Generally, however, Playing Goldeneye, drinking Framboise, eating lasagne which bordered on the godlike, and picking up stacks of ultra-cheap laser discs were pastimes which I will treasure closely to my own heart, but not inflict on you.

Particularly worthy of note were spending St.Valentine’s Day firing off 9mm weaponry at a local shooting range. Full details of this will be in the next printed TC, but it’s probably a good thing that I am, in general, kept well away from lethal armaments. I also attended a fight, at which a hockey game briefly broke out: the most surprising thing there was how the referees stood back and let them get on with at, only stepping in when one participant went down.

One thing worth mentioning though, was a return trip to Las Vegas: my first trip there has been well chronicled in the printed TC, but a return trip allows you to take in the place with a little more detachment, and a little less awestruck wonder. I also got to see the volcano on the Strip this time — allegedly it’s pina-colada scented, though I couldn’t tell. Think I probably gambled a bit more this time, and even won a slots tournament: ten competitors, $15 each, keep what the machine pays, and prizes for the top three, which largely solved the gift problem, though don’t tell my family that…

Our major revelation was a machine called ‘Safebuster’, which is one of the rare ones in the casinos with a feature — given the somewhat advanced age of your average slots player, anything more that three-bells-in-a-row is too much for their senile dementia to handle. This one-armed bandit, however, had a combination lock on top, which spun periodically; get the right number, and an X lit up: three X’s = money. However, it was amazing how many people failed to grasp this concept, and would walk away leaving two X’s shining like a beacon. We prowled the strip, looking for these machines, and even took to “predating” in our hotel, like gambling velociraptors. We would lurk in the background whenever anyone aged over fifty played them, waiting to POUNCE if they left too many X’s up. This added a whole new, carnivorous dimension to gambling.

Inevitably, it was something of a shock to leave the warm climes of Arizona (jumper all but unused) and return to cold and wet London. However, at least I had phase two of my break to look forward to. It seemed as if I had hardly caught my breath before I was earning more air miles on the way to the Czech capital.

I’ve been there before as well (again, see previous TCs for details), but I was a little more worried that the place would have lost the naive charm which it had last time I visited, soon after it split from Slovakia. I needn’t have been too bothered, however, as I think the wave of tourists which swamped the city has since subsided. Going in February probably helped a bit too, though the weather was unseasonably clement: we didn’t expect to be in T-shirts.

We had a blast: how could it be otherwise, with beer at 40p a pint? And add to this that this is a land where, at meal-times, vegetables fall into the category of “optional extra”, and you have a land which is clearly close to TC’s heart, even without the undeniably cute locals. We struggled manfully coming to grips with Czech, a language which requires keyboards to have FOUR characters per key, and ended up referring to everything as “hodinky” simply because we liked the word — the fact that it actually meant “watch” was irrelevant.

Just as warped as Czech were the English translations in the restaurants where we ate. Among the items we enjoyed were: Prague Joe’s Style Needle Sack of Mr.Town Councillor Mixed Grill Pretty Prague Girl Style

Our accommodation was great: for eleven pounds a night each, we got an apartment just off the top of Wenceslas Square, which had everything we needed as well as a billiard table. And there was enough going on to keep everyone interested, no matter their interests: classical music, art, history, or simply beers, steers and leers.

If it was hard to come back from America, in some ways it was even harder to come back from Prague, because that’s it over: no holiday for the next four months. My cooking falls well short of what I had out in America, while trying desperately to get service in a London pub compares VERY unfavourably with a place where seats and swift service are the norm. I am therefore embarking on a brief period of mourning — but will no doubt surface once enough absinthe has been consumed… 😉