Lamp-lighter Vaclav Vavra, photo: CTK

The ideal bureaucrat? A topless sex-bomb! A battle over Christmas lights in Teplice and a solarium for horses. Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

Pirated software is a big problem in the Czech Republic. The past week showed just how big when an audit at the Culture Ministry revealed that the vast majority of the institution's Microsoft programmes were pirated. Auditors found illegal software in 200 computers. Now this would be shocking in itself but what is worse yet is that the Culture Ministry is the institution responsible for curbing pirated software. So is the Culture Ministry in hot water? Apparently, not. No one has pressed charges against it and Microsoft, which could be forgiven for doing so, says it wants to settle the matter amicably. Well, that's a nice example for everyone.

Christmas is a season of good cheer and all those bright little Christmas lights are expected to help set the mood -but in the town of Teplice they are having the exact opposite effect. They have split the town down the middle and there is now a war on over Christmas decorations. The town hall is a historic building built in the classicist style - which the locals are inordinately proud of. Now it is covered with cascades of Christmas lights. Some love it -others hate it, saying that it has turned the town hall into a kitschy "Disneyland". The National Heritage Institute has written to the town's mayor asking him to take the decorations down and put up something more tasteful. However the mayor is standing firm - insisting that the town hall looks very nice as it is. "This is what Christmas is all about - if it is kitschy - then that's because Christmas is kitschy as well" he said.

Lamp-lighter Vaclav Vavra,  photo: CTK
Sixty-two-year-old Vaclav Vavra is the only lamp-lighter in Prague - indeed the only one in the Czech Republic. Dressed in a suit and top-hat and wielding a long bamboo stick he stands out among the crowd of tourists in Prague's Celetna street as he moves from one gas-lamp to the next turning them on manually. His evening round through Celetna street- the old Town Square - Melantrich Street and Uhelny trh takes him about thirty minutes - sometimes longer depending on how many tourists stop him to ask for a holiday picture. "My father was an electrician - and he was proud to have replaced many gaslights in Prague with electric ones, even along this street - and now they are back and here I am, all dressed up, lighting them. I wonder what he'd make of that" Vaclav says. He is the only lamp man in Prague and proud of it. Gas lights were first introduced in Prague in 1847. Today you will find them around the Old Town Square and around Prague Castle. Lighting them manually is a special treat for the public reserved for times like Christmas. If you are in Prague and would like to see the sight then stroll down Celetna after 4 pm on any given day up until December 23rd. And, don't forget your camera!

Having to go down to your local town hall to deal with red tape is always a bore - but if it's unavoidable - then what would help make the experience more pleasant for your? The town hall at Orlova in Karvine - the eastern part of the country decided to ask its inhabitants - and got a little more than it bargained for. Nine hundred people filled in the questionnaire and among the things they asked for was an endless supply of fresh coffee for free, a big TV and DVD player in the waiting room, young and attractive assistants and - topless female clerks! It will be interesting to see if the town follows up on these tips within its new customer-friendly service!

Andrew Urbis,  photo: CTK
Does waiting for a bus in minus twenty degrees seem like an eternity? Well - think about spending a few minutes in a room where the temperature is 130 degrees below zero! Yes, it can be done - and you can walk out alive, unassisted! Andrew Urbis set a new record this week when he spent eight minutes and ten seconds in precisely these conditions. He was wearing only socks, underwear, gloves and a mask covering his mouth and nose. "The crisis came around the fourth minute but I knew there was a seven minute record so I just hung in there," Andrew said later. He said he thought that one could survive a nine minute stay in these conditions but not much more. When he came out a nurse had trouble getting a blood sample - his arm he was so frozen, but he played it cool. "I could have stayed much longer - but I didn't want to keep you all waiting," he told the crowd of observers gathered outside. Doctors use the cold as therapy to treat infections, joint and spine problems and various skin diseases. However patients spend a much shorter time in these conditions - usually around one to two minutes.

Many people like to maintain a nice sun-tan all year round - and the sun bed is a cheap and easy way to do it. But it is not only people who pay regular visits to their local solarium - some horses do as well. The mounted police in Zlin take good care of their horses and after a day out in the cold - they get to warm their bones and tired muscles at the horse solarium. Ladislav Drabek, head of the mounted police, says they clearly love the experience - but they are only allowed in for 25 minutes at a time- any more could damage their hide.

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague
The number of stalls and open air markets in the Czech capital has reached such proportions that the Prague town hall has decided to put its foot down. It wants to pass a new regulation limiting the number of open markets and intends to get rid of close to 40 of them before the end of the year. "They are ugly, often sell pirated goods and do the Czech capital a disservice" the town hall spokesman Jiri Wolf told the media. And the town hall began with the one which is most visible - the Christmas stall market on the Old Town Square. This year visitors will find it greatly reduced, much more picturesque and selling exclusively Christmas goods. People who like to shop at these stalls needn't worry however - even if the town hall gets rid of forty of these open air markets there will still be over 500 of them left.