Which side of me will win?

Czeching for lumps

If you think that title’s bad – and if you do, then you’re right – then you should see all the titles I rejected. You really should. I mean it. And I’m going to write them here so you can:

Czech mate (too prostitutey)
Czeching in (already used it in a Facebook update)
Czeching the oil (Manowar don’t wear oil any more)
Mic Czech (just shit)
Bouncing Czechs (only just thought of that – not bad actually)
Czech your balance (if only I’d fallen over at any point)
Czech disk (…)
Czech Norris (probably a close second place, that one)
Spell Czech (lazy)
Czech train times (it works…)
Czech yourself before you wreck yourself (lame)

I went for ‘Czeching for lumps’ because it brings to mind breasts, testicles and cancer – two out of five of which are among my favourite things, which is a pretty good ratio.

Anyway, back in 2009, shortly after I saw Manowar for the first time, I made a vow. I promised myself, and the Gods Of Metal, that I would see Manowar at least once every year for the rest of their mortal lives. In 2010 I saw them once, 2011 an impressive five times and this year… I admit I was tempted to break my vow, and thought I might have to, what with moving to Slovenia and not having full-time work yet.

The advantage of not having full-time work though, is that I was free on the day of Manowar’s show in Zlin, Czech Republic on Friday. The disadvantage is that I couldn’t really afford it, but I’ll worry about that later.

I almost couldn’t even pretend to afford it and Thursday night was a very stressful time for that reason. Eventually though I got a hotel room and train ticket booked. Both were too expensive but fuck it, a vow’s a vow. And Manowar are The Kings.

My train was at 7:30 on Friday morning, so I was up before dawn, bleerily stumbling about, making final preparations and shuffling out of the flat to the train station. I don’t remember much of the first leg of the journey – I was probably asleep – but I do remember that by the time we reached Jesenice the sun had come out and the scenery was looking pretty sweet. I was admiring a spectacular rock face when suddenly I was plunged into darkness. I figured I wouldn’t be seeing that rock face again because I was now in a tunnel cut straight through the middle of a mountain. Then I thought, “Nah, it can’t be cut right through the middle of a mountain. That’d be prohibitively expensive…”

Ten minutes later, I was still in the same tunnel.

It was cut straight through the middle of a mountain, namely Golica, a peak in the Western Karawanks (teehee…), and when we finally emerge on the other side, we’re in Austria and it’s not sunny any more. The train is chugging away through thick clouds of fog and, apart from some very occasional breaks in the cloud, there isn’t much to look at.

Soon we reach Villach where I change trains, boarding what at first appears to be a newer, smarter vehicle, but turns out to be a right useless hunk of tin. The heater in my compartment doesn’t work properly – it just switches on and off repeatedly for the entire 6.5-hour journey, never getting hot – half the toilets are out of order, and the plug sockets for laptops are just weird, which interferes with my entertainment plans. Never mind though; I still get to Otrokovice on time. And there it is fucking freezing.

At Otrokovice I know I’m supposed to get a bus to Zlin. I figure out which bus and where to get it, but can’t figure out what ticket I need to buy from the machine. I’m standing there watching people – all of whom seem to be having difficulty – use the machine when this fat Czech guy of about 50 starts talking to me in Czech. I tell him I don’t understand and he wanders off. I notice a trio of teenagers sitting nearby and figure at least one of them might speak English, so I ask. Once does, and tries to help me buy a ticket. The machine is playing up though, refusing to accept half the coins we put in, so he leads me back to the train station and buys my ticket from the office there. Apparently you can buy bus tickets all over the place in the Czech Republic, but I didn’t know. Anyway, what a helpful young man.

As I’m heading back to the bus stop, I see the fat old guy from earlier on. He sees me and gives me a thumbs up, asking, “Okay? Okay?” I nod, smile, return the thumbs up and get on the bus. As does he.

I don’t really know where I need to get off, so I take out my map of Zlin and see if anything I can see out of the window corresponds to anything on the map. I’ve been looking back and forth for a few minutes, unable to match anything much up, when Fat Old Czech Bloke catches my eye and communicates through a mixture of basic Czech and hand gestures that I should stay on for ten more minutes or so, if I’m going to the city centre, like he is. The even older Czech man sitting next to me appears to agree. I nod, smile and thank them.

As we enter the city centre I have another quick look at the map and spot a cinema that’s marked on the map and near the Euronics arena where Manowar are playing, so I make to get off at the next stop. Fat Old Czech Bloke reckons I should stay on for one more, but I point to my map and insist I know where I am. He has a look round and decides that actually he wants to get off here too.

I get off the bus and check the map to get my bearings. While I’m doing so, Fat Old Czech Bloke starts talking to me again. We’re not understanding each other very well, but then I notice him say a particular word… ‘Manoo-vair’.

Suddenly I understand why this guy’s been taking such an interest in me. Realising that I’m an outsider with long hair, he’s correctly deduced that I am going to the Manowar concert, and he is too. “Lord Of Steel! Lord Of Steel!” he says excitedly. He really doesn’t know any English except Manowar song titles, but it proves to be just about enough to communicate at least some of what we want to tell each other. We also find each other very funny. I’m not sure why he thinks I’m so funny, but he keeps cracking me up, like when we go to the supermarket and, out of nowhere, he grabs my arm, leans in close and says, “Hey… hey… London town. Huh? Huh?” then bursts out laughing. He’s referring to a line from Manowar’s classic Hail To England, “We march from the hills, down to London town.” I laugh too. I’m not even sure why. He keeps doing it though. He’ll lean in like he’s got a really funny secret to tell me, and it’s always just the name of another Manowar song. Or sometimes just ‘London town’ again.

We find the Euronics arena together and Fat Old Czech Bloke starts talking to a young guy with Manowar patches sewn on his jeans. They talk for quite a while and I start to get impatient – I need to buy a ticket for the show then go find my hotel, which is some distance away. I’ve tried to communicate this to Fat Old Czech Bloke, but I’m not sure he understands.

After a while though, a young lady shows up and opens up an office right next to where we are and starts setting up inside. I then realise that we’re standing right next to the box office and that the young guy has been waiting to collect his ticket. So I get in the queue. Fat Old Czech Bloke thinks I’m confused, but I manage to explain, finally, that I still need to buy a ticket. He doesn’t so he wanders off to the bar with some other random stranger. I get my ticket, then go find him and say goodbye, telling him I’ll be back for a drink later on. I think he understood the goodbye part anyway.

When I return to the bar at 7, an hour before the time marked on the ticket, it is rammed full of Manowar fans. Now, I’ve been to what was East Germany, and I thought those Germans were the Kings Of Mullet. I was wrong. Men of the Czech Republic, here is your crown – you’ve earned it. It’s short up front and long at the back, just the way you like it.

A barrel of Czech mullets, shortly before being scraped in order to produce this very joke.

I queue up for a beer, which takes a while. While I’m queuing, I see Fat Old Czech Bloke get up, put on his coat and jacket, and take a few swigs from a hip flask. The hip flask explains a lot. When my turn comes, I once again have trouble communicating. I point to the Staropramen taps and say, “Staropramen.” The barmaid looks confused, so I look confused right back at her then point at the Staropramen taps again. She snatches the bank note from my hand, gives me my change and turns to serve someone else. Another barmaid puts two different glasses, containing two different kinds of Staropramen down in front of me. It appears I have ordered both. I’m going to have to be quick. People are heading for the venue already, and Manowar don’t generally have support bands.

I find a table and sit alone, smoking cigarettes (indoors!), chugging away at my beers, and sending silly texts about Czech beer to friends in Slovenia. They send silly texts back, except Nina, who lived in the Czech Republic for a while and takes Czech beer very, very seriously indeed.

By the time I finish up, all the other Manowar fans have gone except for one really drunk couple, who I think try to sell me a spare ticket for the gig. I politely decline and quickly head for the arena entrance.

I can hear the music from Ben Hur already playing as I round the corner and line up to get frisked – I don’t have much time! Fortunately, there are only a few people in front of me, and the search and ticket check are quick. I step through the door, think, “Whoah! This place is really big and really full!” then make my way to the middle of the floor just as Orson Welles announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, from the United States Of America, all hail… MANOWAR!”


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