And now the end is near and so we face the final curtain. Yes, 2018 has finished and we flip the calendar forward to start another year. So before we really kick into the new year here is an alphabetical (yes, I missed a few letters) look back at the best and worst bits of last year.
A – Aerial - I needed a new plan because I am too tight to buy a new TV. “What I need is something metal and something big,” I thought to myself. “I need to make my own antenna,” was my conclusion. Coat hangers, saucepans and even a BBQ grill were tried but all to no avail. “Maybe if I move the TV on top of the wardrobe it will be closer the window,” said my wife. That’s it! Eureka! The portable wardrobe is basically a huge metal frame. I unplugged the old antenna and pushed the wire hard into the metal frame…. BINGO! Seeing that my invention would work I needed to upgrade it. I scratched a small piece of paint off the inside metal frame and with some cello tape fixed the antenna wire to the exposed metal of the wardrobe and the television turned from a snow screen to HD. Not only could I watch the football perfectly but I could also now pick up thirty Italian channels and Libertas TV. Had I invented the latest satellite dish? My wardrobe. “Why is there a cable sticking out of the wardrobe now,” came the obvious question from my wife. And when she heard the explanation the follow-up question was “Will I get an electric shock if I take a pair of trousers.” The World Cup for me was back on, even if it was a little green. Yes, although I have a plethora of channels many of them are slightly green. Normally watching football it isn’t too much of a problem, unless one team wears green and then they kind of get lost in the green grass.
B – Baking - It seems strange an Englishman moaning about having too much good weather but I am really missing rain. I have never been one for lying on the beach. It seems a wholly pointless exercise. Maybe I have some Asian blood in my family tree. For the Japanese rubbing your body with sun cream and then frying in the sun is simply off limits. They hide, rather sensibly, behind umbrellas and flowing white clothes and do their best to stay in the shade. Now that is a clever nation. I would prefer to spend a day under the air-conditioning than a day under the sun on the beach. And there lies the problem. We are currently in our summer residence, yes like the rest of the city we rent out our apartment in the summer and move.
C – CIA - But of all the Croatian music the one that really makes my ears bleed is folk, or turbo folk, or folk turbo, or pop-folk. This is music that you have to be blind drunk to even listen to let alone enjoy. I would rather eat tripe for a week than go to a Jelena Rozga concert. If the CIA played non-stop Rozga to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay they would have all the secrets they wanted after half an hour. I would prefer to listen to someone scratching their fingernails down a blackboard to Rozga or in fact Severina or Maja Šuput. It is so bad that it is comical. Maybe that is their secret. They are just joking with everyone. Yes, that could be the answer, for surely no one on purpose would make music so bereft of anything resembling music.
D – Discount - Now when I first arrived in Dubrovnik I was a little shocked at the fact that many institutions and businesses have one price for locals and one for tourists. After twenty years I am not shocked anymore, in fact I would actively encourage it. Of course there is a right way and a wrong way of pricing. It shouldn’t be more expensive for tourists, just cheaper for locals. If a steak normally costs 150 Kuna, it shouldn’t be 200 Kuna for tourists, but 100 for locals. Basically offering a discount and not pumping up the prices. And this is why I am not against parking privileges for locals. How a foreign tourist can park his car within spitting distance of the Old City walls is beyond me? Try and park your car next to Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel Tower or the Brandenburg Gate and see the response.
E – Eccentric - “I really can’t understand why you Brits love the Queen and the Royal Family so much,” questioned an American friend recently. Even though had a sarcastic answer about former colonies and how he his homeland had been under Royal control up until 1783 I bit my tongue. Although to be fair I have been asked the same question in Dubrovnik several times before. There isn’t really a logical answer, for at the end of the day Britain isn’t really a logical country, you only have to look at Brexit to realise that. This isn’t something new. The British have always chosen the quirks of our history against foreign rationalism. The Romans tried to give us the metric system but as soon as they left we went back to the much more complicated Imperial system. Great Britain is full of eccentric traditions that are so beloved that they will never change and anyone foreign power who tries to change them will fail.
F – Football - Football will not save Croatia but it will act as a motivating force that will show that there is a bright future. If this isn’t a prime example of what can be done with hard work, passion, belief and utter determination then I really don’t know what is! This summer, these 30 days of the tournament, have broadcast Croatia as a world power, as a country with a heart much bigger than the geographical size of the country.
G – Game of Thrones - The Dubrovnik adventure in Game of Thrones ended last week, the last cameras were packed up, the catering trucks rolled out of town and the actors posted Instagram photos sitting on departing planes. The eighth and final season of the most popular TV series ever broadcast left Dubrovnik for the last time, unless the rumours of a trilogy of films come true. There can be no doubt that the series has been mutually beneficial. HBO gained a unique location that featured as the crown jewel in the series, and Dubrovnik has earned not only a financial benefit but also priceless marketing. Even though the final series has been “wrapped” in Dubrovnik the results won’t hit the smalls screens until 2019, meaning that the Game of Thrones effect will last for a good few years yet.
H – Holidays - I am often asked by foreigners why there are so many public holidays in Croatia. Do you know how many there are in total? The answer is in fact 13. And that includes Christmas and New Year’s Day, so 11 other ones. Do you know how many there are every year in Germany? 13. And in France? 11. And in the UK? 8…only 8. However, these figures can be slightly misleading. Why? Because in Croatia, as in Italy, the day that a public holiday falls on is not transferable. Meaning that if, for example, Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day falls on a weekend, as it does this year, that holiday isn’t transferred to the day before or the day after. This is not the case in the UK. If a public holiday lands on the weekend it is then transferred to either the Monday or the Friday. So even though the UK only has eight public holidays a year, one of the lowest in the world, it actually really has eight holidays. Whereas Croatia this year in fact only has 11 as opposed to 13.
I – Instagram - And it would seem that technology has also been working hard on beach equipment. Gone are the days when we could wander down to the beach with just a towel flung over our shoulders. Now we have to take a whole array of gadgets just to go for a swim. Of course smart phones are at the top of the list. I mean you can’t go to the beach without taking a provocative photo for Instagram, can you? Watching young ladies pose in the shallows always brings a smile to my face. There is obviously a certain pose that emphasizes attributes, one leg slightly bent, head looking back over the shoulder and bum sticking out. They busily share it on social media and then wait for the comments and likes, reminds me of digital fishing. They cast their bait, normally bums, boobs or bulging lips, and wait for a fish to bite. Thankfully my generation didn’t have the pressures of looking like a Victoria Secret model.
K – Knowledge - We have plenty of people to sell rooms and meet and greet the guests but finding people to feed them and fix their leaking shower isn’t so easy. We are living in a throwaway society. In a society that doesn’t value the skills and knowledge of people who work with their hands. “On the right side of the pendulum, consumerism has reached an all-time high, with products reaching their planned obsolescence within absurdly short timespans and new products being rolled out (and bought) by the millions every day. And, since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, we have to expect consequences,” wrote an expert of waste management Kristi Gartner. It is true. We are already feeling the consequences.
L – Lazy - “You can have the best idea in the world but without realisation you have absolutely nothing,” commented the Australian businessman in front of me in the busy Dubrovnik café bar. Of course he was right. And it the realisation part that stops most people from achieving their dream or turning that great idea into a profitable business. For realisation requires hard work, determination, focus and sacrifice. It also requires time; it’s not going to happen overnight. Unfortunately, many of these qualities have somehow been lost. We now live in a world of “instants.” From instant success to instant fame and instant wealth. I personally don’t believe in any of these “instant” fixes.
M – Mountain - Marathon runners say that when running at some point you hit an imaginary wall that stops you in your tracks and you just have to push on through it. It had hit the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China and if Trump had built a wall, then his as well. Thankfully my saviour was Mother Nature. I have seen some beautiful nature in my time on this earth but the views from the Sniježnica mountain must be up there in the top three. “Shall we stop for a rest,” asked my wife. I wanted to say “I thought you’d never ask,” but yes you guessed it I just nodded in agreement. I collapsed to the grassy floor like one of Mike Tyson’s opponents.
N – Neverland - Far from making Dubrovnik into a Disney Land it should be preserved as “Neverland.” A place that captures escapism, immortality and eternal childhood as in the land that Peter Pan live. So is Dubrovnik dying? Has tourism really killed Dubrovnik? No. Has it been badly wounded and in need of treatment and care. Yes.
O – Overpriced - “I just thought that 20 Kunas for a coffee was a little pricey,” she looked off into the distance. “Really, you are sitting on the Stradun, in the Mediterranean sunshine, in one of the most popular destinations in Europe and you think that 20 Kunas is expensive for a coffee. The last time I was in Switzerland I paid 4 Swiss Francs for a coffee in a petrol station,” I added. If you think 20 Kunas for a coffee on the Stradun is expensive then please, please don’t come to Dubrovnik this year.
P – Part time - Every summer season Dubrovnik “imports” around 2,000 workers from neighbouring countries to fill the hole in the lack of local workers. It is basic mathematics. If 40,000 live in the city, and when you take away all the people who work for the state, are pensioners, are children or have apartments and have no need to work then you are left with only around 5,000 workers are available to service the 2 million guests every year, in other words not enough. So we scoop up workers from all over the place.
R – Royal Wedding - I admit it I cried. And no, I am not the kind of person that blubbers at weddings. And no, it wasn’t the first sight of the bride, or even the first kiss that had me in tears. Yes, the Royal Wedding, the wedding of the decade, had me glued to the TV screen this weekend. Coverage started on the BBC at six o’clock in the morning, presumably we were going to see what they were planning for breakfast. And what time did I start watching, yes you guessed it at six o’clock. I actually love these Royal occasions. Maybe I inherited the love of all things Regal from my parents, well more precisely my mother.
S – Scooter - If something is not how it normally is then they become nervous and that’s when mistakes occur. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Strap on a helmet and they feel invincible. Of course I am not saying that all scooter riders are irresponsible, but it seems like all the ones that buzz and fart around me are. It seems that they are all in a terrible rush to get somewhere, to some life or death situation, when really most of them are just late for coffee with a friend. As Mahatma Gandhi once said “There is more to life than just increasing its speed.”
T – Tower of fear - Heights and I have a relationship, I don’t go near them and they don’t come near me. Yes, one of the phobias that I have is acrophobia, in fact it’s probably the only phobia I have. I have tried on many occasions to conquer this fear, but all attempts have left me shaking like a leaf in the bura. I’ve been up the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the domed roof of St. Paul’s Cathedral and even on the roof of Robna Kuca Srd and they all left me trembling like a jelly. So when I got a call “We would like you to invite you as a guest to our newly opened attraction, a zip line in Dubrovnik,” I was hesitant to agree.
V – Vacination - Three, six, twelve…no these are not the lottery numbers but the number of people infected with measles in Dubrovnik. It is growing on a daily basis. When does it reach an epidemic? It is probably the most Googled term in Dubrovnik over the past week. I must be honest I am a little in the dark as to how dangerous or not measles actually is. I know that I had it as a child. Vaguely at the back of my mind is a picture of me covered in small spots. I can’t really remember if it hurt or not, all I can remember was that I got a week off school, which was the best part of being infected. I also remember being vaccinated at school. Well, when I say I remember, I recall being in a line of hundreds of children waiting outside a huge room where grumpy-looking nurses jabbed a needle into our arm. Nobody asked us if we wanted it or not.
W – Winter - Soon the flights will arrive, soon the city will be full again, soon we will all be working at top speed, and in that melee of madness we will all forget that winter was even here. The same old problems will arise again, the same old shouts for something to be done and the same old excuses that we have all heard. And, guess what, nothing will be done. The sun will melt our memories as an ice-cream on the beach and the life will go on in our Dubrovnik Groundhog Day. And then the colder days will be here again and once again we will hibernate and like an emu bury our heads in the sand. Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower, once said Steve Jobs.
Y – Yugoslavia - The cook, was from Serbia, the waiter from Ivanica and the owner from Croatia, yes I was having lunch in Yugoslavia. “Do you want to pay in Euro, KM or Kuna?” asked the waiter as he collected our plates, which we had wiped clean. I thought to ask if he accepted Yen or Ruble, but stopped myself as he would probably have even accepted dukats. “So in your opinion when do you think BIH will be a full member of the European Union?” asked the businessman in front of me. I had no answer.
Z - Zoo - Now I can sleep through a hurricane but our animals obviously can’t. Just the other day when a particularly bad storm was brewing I was awoken to a vibrating bed. Literally the whole bed was shaking. Was it an earthquake? No, it was out little dog having a fit of anxiety as a storm approached. For some reason she had decided to do this a few millimetres from my ear. So as the trembling bed jolted me out of my dream I was greeted with a heavy panting right into my ear. And then the vibration went to a whole new level on the Richter scale as our overweight Labrador scaled up onto the bed. It seems that anxiety is contagious. The bed was now creaking. I am not sure what the neighbours thought. They were hearing heavy panting and the monotonous creak of the wooden bed. Make your own conclusions.
Happy New Year