Photo: CTK

Not all mascots are the kind that you can carry around. Vendelin is twenty and weighs 6o kilograms. For a catfish and lake-mascot that's pretty good. The worst time and place to get falling down drunk is in a grocery store that you've just robbed. And Czech teenagers try their hand at snow-kiting. Find out more in this week's Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

Do you pay a lot of fines for bad driving? You may be interested to hear that the police are preparing a new system to make it easier for you to part with your money. Fines will be payable by credit card with the help of so called mobile terminals. The system is already functioning in neighbouring Germany and should be put into operation in the Czech Republic some time next year.

Ten and twenty heller coins are no longer valid -having been taken out of circulation on the last day of October. Yet it is still possible to pay with them in some of the larger department stores who want to get an edge over the competition. When the validity of 10 and 20 heller coins ended some stores announced that they were bringing down the price of goods to the nearest half crown -or even whole crown -in some cases. Others said they were adhering strictly to the law by rounding the price off towards the nearest half crown -be it up or down. But economists warn that the hullabaloo over the hellers is nothing more than a clever advertising trick. These department stores are certainly not going to be cheated of their profit -analysts say - and if you want proof just compare the current price of some goods with its price tag next month. The past week has shown that not many people bother to make a trip to the bank to get their hellers exchanged or shop where they can still spend them - the vast majority simply drop them in the many charity boxes set up for that purpose.

A planned theft in the east Morvian city of Ostrava went badly wrong. The thief - a foreign national whose name has been withheld - entered a small grocery store and sprayed tear gas in the owner's face. The woman was too quick for him however -she escaped by a back entrance and quick as a flash locked all of the shops doors. Trapped in the shop the thief gave way to self pity and promptly got falling down drunk. By the time the police arrived he had consumed an entire bottle of vodka and was rolling on the floor -in the stolen banknotes. The shopkeeper could collect her money - and the police carted the unhappy thief off to a detoxification centre.

Snow-kiting is the latest hit among Czech teenagers. It is a combination of skiing and flying a kite and according to one of the instructors -if you can ski - you can snow kite. Since skiing is a sport taught at secondary schools across the country snow kiting is right at home here. The most important condition for snow kiting is allegedly a good wind - and an optimal wind is three metres per second. The kite is also not the kind you fly in the autumn. Snow kites resemble wings. The smallest -for kids to manage - are two metres wide, but the standard size is 12 to 18 metres. They are flown on two to four ropes. And the ideal terrain is a plain, not a mountain slope. You need a plain in order to make best use of the wind and in ideal conditions you can pick up a very fast speed -comparable to a motorbike ride.

Photo: CTK
Czech traffic police have been cracking down on drinking and driving which is one of the two most frequent causes of accidents on Czech roads. Imagine their surprise when they stopped a driving school instructor and found that she too had consumed alcohol before setting off on the road. The law does not say whether a driving instructor should get especially severe punishment for setting a bad example.

Marihuana is the most popular drug among Czech teenagers. It is now said to be present in almost every secondary school in the Czech Republic, not just the schools in big cities but across the country. While in 1999 a third of all young people aged between 16 and 19 had tried it, by 2001 a full 50% of all youngsters said they'd smoked a joint. Now some surveys suggest two thirds of school children may have tried marihuana. Although such statistics put the Czech Republic dangerously high on the ladder of European states experts say that the situation is not as serious as it would seem. Many of these figures include thousands of cases which are isolated incidents sparked by curiosity.

Many Czechs try it and leave it there, says Ondrej Novak from one of Prague's Drop In centres. "Only" 34 percent of Czech youngsters smoke marihuana regularly or whenever they get the chance.

Photo: CTK
The Czech Republic may not have a sea but it has plenty of lakes - both natural and man-made and people take good care of them. Not just because they happen to produce the nation's Xmas dinner in the form of carp. Many lakes have their own mascots - prize fish which are considered untouchable for fishermen and are always thrown back into the lake during the netting season. Last years floods allowed quite a few of these mascots to escape - but others remain- -much to the delight of the locals. One Czech lake boasts a pair of Albino catfish as their mascots -and legend has it that the fisherman who would dare to net and consume them would die before the year was out. The owners of another Czech lake -near Pilsen - have just announced that their mascot also survived the 500 year floods safe and sound. The mascot is a huge catfish called Vendelin who has lived in the lake for twenty years now and weighs and impressive 60 kilograms

Most Czech castles and chateaux close down for the winter - visitors are scarce and it is a time devoted to maintenance. Mirrors, chandeliers and silver are polished, carpets cleaned and old family portraits and precious paintings attended to by professionals. However sometimes there are exceptions and a chateau opens its doors to welcome the public for a special event. Last weekend the Kozel Chateau in west Bohemia hosted a two day event celebrating tea.

Many Czechs eat on the go and their idea of tea is dropping a teabag into hot water - to be swallowed absentmindedly before they rush off to work. "We want to show them the philosophy of tea-drinking as it is known in the East," the organizers explained. The public did indeed get a treat - and for many of them the hectic pace of life stood still as they watched a Japanese monk perform the ritual of tea-making and above all tea drinking. The organizers had created a world of beauty and tranquillity -they displayed photographs of Japanese gardens, porcelain, calligraphy and the art of ikebana or flower arrangement as soft flute music played in the background. The Japanese monk gave a talk entitled "Tea and Zen taste the same" and played an old Japanese melody meant to evoke the sound of the wind in a bamboo plantation. Breakfast will never be the same again.