Letter from Prague
I think that I must have the greatest landlady in the world. That's not something that you hear too often said in the Czech Republic, and you certainly don't hear it often said by a foreigner like myself. She is called Mrs. Zelenkova - as far as I have been able to ascertain, she lectures something to do with architecture at the Charles University. Mrs. Zelenkova is a bold, brassy woman who wouldn't look out of place serving behind a bar in Zizkov. She is polite - which, of course, rules her out of working in a pub in Zizkov, businesslike - providing me with all the papers I need not to get thrown out of the country, - and she has a weakness for a crafty cigarette behind the backs of her two watchful twin daughters, Martina and Tereza.
Because I'm single, male, living alone and am a foreigner, I am naturally cast in the role of 'helpless bloke' who needs to find a good wife as soon as possible to attend to my everyday needs and, above all, make sure that the flat remains suitable for human habitation. I am capable of hoovering the carpets, but I always seem to get back home so late in the evening that I don't really want to wake the neighbours. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it. I don't mind washing up - once a week, and I even clean the toilet a bit - when visitors are expected, at least.
But what I can't abide and I never will is cleaning windows. In common with a lot of buildings in this country, my windows are actually two windows - the inside and the outside, both of which swing in - it's a kind of primitive double glazing, heavy on resources to keep the frame suppliers in business. That means one window - four sides of glass pane. Naturally, this is a pain, especially on a bright, sunny Saturday when I'd rather be doing something a bit less like hard work.
Step forward Mrs. Zelenkova - 'Would you like your windows cleaned, Peter?' she asked one day, realizing that that the flat looked distinctly less bright than it used to. I suppose over a year had passed since the last time, so I said yes, thank you. Mrs. Zelenkova mobilized her troops the very next weekend - two young women from Ukraine - introduced to me as Alla and Olga, plus her very own twins - Tereza and Martina. I provided the musical entertainment by sitting on the sofa and plucking my guitar when I became frustrated with my 3D jigsaw puzzle of the Empire State Building currently rising on my coffee-table. They didn't seem to mind - Martina, bless her, even had the audacity to suggest that it was 'good training' for her, since she is due to get married very soon and well.. need I go on. I didn't think that this was the time to lecture her about the modern idea of roles in a marriage, particularly since Tereza was moaning - a touch bitchily - about being 15 minutes older and having to suffer the indignity of seeing her younger sister get married first. All the time, Alla and Olga were commenting that 32 was a good age to get married and I should hurry up and, I quote 'Take a wife.'
As it was, the four Bennett sisters cleaned my windows in three hours flat, and one of them even slipped into my bedroom and - unable to resist the temptation - matched and rolled 15 pairs of socks that had been lying there for a week. Great landlady, Mrs. Zelenkova.