Winners and losers

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I was in a pub when the result I had been waiting for all week finally came in. It was a rather dingy pub, just round the corner from the radio station. A few years ago it tried to attract more punters by offering "topless waitresses." They stayed topless for a few weeks before the scheme was finally abandoned, perhaps because the punters were spending more time staring at the waitresses than guzzling beer...

I was in a pub when the result I had been waiting for all week finally came in. It was a rather dingy pub, just round the corner from the radio station. A few years ago it tried to attract more punters by offering "topless waitresses." They stayed topless for a few weeks before the scheme was finally abandoned, perhaps because the punters were spending more time staring at the waitresses than guzzling beer. Anyway, the topless waitresses were long gone this Saturday afternoon - a fully-clothed waiter had just brought me a mysteriously salty chicken steak with blue cheese, and a cup of watery coffee to wash it down. I settled down eagerly in front of the TV, waiting for that all-important result. At precisely seventeen minutes past three it was all over: England 3: Denmark 0.

It was a clear, decisive victory, and the last one I was to witness that sultry afternoon. For last Saturday was a day of victories and defeats - not in football, but in something far more important (or far less important, depending on how you look at it) - I refer of course to politics. Last Saturday was the Czech general election.

I had certainly picked the losers. Me and a colleague had divided up the four party headquarters between us - he took the left - the Social Democrats and the Communists - and I took the right - the Civic Democrats and the Coalition. I arrived first at Civic Democrat headquarters, bastion of the Thatcherite former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. According to the exit polls, the party had just suffered its worst ever defeat. It felt like it. Outside, sitting under a tent in the pouring rain, a handful of journalists smoked and sipped their coffees and watched the results come in. Inside, TV crews jostled for position as the braver party members made fleeting appearances in a sweltering press room, urging us to wait for the final results.

They arrived in the evening, and were worse, not better. Mr Klaus arrived soon afterwards, snarled at the reporters, and conceded defeat. As I left to get the tram, party workers were quietly putting away the little plastic cups that should have been brimming with champagne.

Across the city, in a ballroom in Vinohrady, it was not looking much better for the Coalition. They'd just been beaten into fourth place by the Communists, an astonishingly bad result given their wild popularity six months ago. They, at least, were trying to drink their way out of it - one MP I saw looked like he was on his second bottle of wine. Others - including one who'd just lost his seat in parliament - were making urgent phone calls on the balcony. I nabbed a sandwich and fled, unable to bear the forced jollity and the oppressive heat.

That night, on TV, I watched the celebrations over at the Social Democrats - who won the elections, and also the Communists - who did better than anyone expected. The champagne was flowing like water, and supporters cheered each new win. Both parties partied late into the night, and I wasn't there. So a day of winners and losers, and I picked the losers. In politics, at least.